The Power of Words

A book that is causing a stir among teenagers at the moment is “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher. I decided to read it. You might wonder why I read a book for teenagers. Here’s why. I often get emails with advertisements for new books. Most of the time they don’t interest me, but the email about this book caught my attention. In the subject line and spread across the cover of the book were the words, “The novel that is saving teen lives.”

In brief, the book is about the suicide of a teenage girl and the reasons why she decided to take her life -- thirteen reasons why. Before she takes her life, she records her voice on tape explaining the events that led up to her decision. All of her reasons are because of other people who have hurt her in some way, directly or indirectly, by their actions or words.

I showed the book to the teenage daughters of a friend, and as soon as they saw it they squealed with both shock and delight, recognizing the cover and title immediately. Suicide is a subject that people don’t like talking about, but at the same time are happy that someone is talking about it, it seems.

The author of the book said he got a lot of responses from teens opening their hearts: “The most common thing I’d hear was just ‘This book makes me more aware that even the small things I do can have an effect on people.’

This book reminded me of a story I heard last year about a 15-year old girl who committed suicide in Boston as a result of relentless bullying, after her family moved from Ireland to live in the USA. Being from Ireland myself I took a special interest in this story. On the day she killed herself, she was abused by a group of other students in the school library, the classroom and on her way home. Envy and jealously by the group were considered to be the causes. It reminds me of the words from SOMETHING YOU FORGOT... Along the Way: “The mouth is the gateway to misfortune. We will never know how many people we may have injured or killed with our words.” When I think about this more deeply, I see how true it is. I am sure the school kids had no intention of driving her to suicide. And they will live with guilt and regret possibly for the rest of their lives. Their actions can be put down to thoughtlessness; they were thoughtless about the possible consequences of their actions.

In the book, “Thirteen Reasons Why”, the voice of the dead girl, Hannah, says “No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue.” We don’t know how our words, and actions for that matter, impact the lives of others. How can we teach people that their words have an effect on others?

Buddhism teaches that each person lives in a world of their own, and that we cannot even peek into another’s world. In simple language we have no idea of what someone else is going through, be it family, friends or strangers. All the more reason we should be careful with our words, isn’t it?

Buddhism teaches that all our actions come back to us. Our actions include our words. We must surely get a bad effect when we hurt people with our words. So why not try to get a good effect by saying something nice? For example, tell someone how much they helped you by something they did (maybe they don’t even know that they helped); write someone a “thank you” note; tell someone how happy you are that you are friends; give a stranger a compliment on how they look.

Think about how you feel when someone says something nice to you,and compare it to how you feel when someone says something bad about you. Think about how you feel when you say something that makes someone feel good; and think about how you feel when you say something that makes someone feel bad. Nice words and politeness are surely the way to go. And who knows what positive effect a good word will have on another person. For our own sake, and the sake of others we should strive to practice good deeds.

Frank Costelloe, U.S.A.

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #07, The Power of Words

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