Most of us have heard the expression, “The pen is mightier than the sword”, coined by a writer in the 1800s. There are more ancient versions, such as “The word is mightier than the sword” from the 7th century B.C. and “The tongue is mightier than the blade” from 406 B.C.
The idea of the power of words over that of brute force has been around for a long time and simply can’t be overstated. The potential force behind any words comes from the ideas behind them. An example is a banned word in American culture that is known to create widespread dissension and is referred to as the “N” word. The full word is not allowed nor expected in enlightened communication, other than the initial for its description, and then only to indicate the fact that someone else has used it as a racial slur. It has been used to denigrate people of color, most especially those whose ancestors were brought to our country against their will and forced into slavery. Thankfully, many well-crafted ideas expressed through words have the power to heal and bring about goodwill.
I have my own favorite words. Some words and the concepts behind them are more powerful than others. Many have tremendous strength but are underestimated because they are not “sword-like.” On occasion, I may latch onto a word and ruminate on it, now and then, for days, weeks, or even longer.
One of those words that have been on my mind for a few weeks is “gracious.” Merriam-Webster defines “gracious” as: “marked by kindness and courtesy.” It is a lovely word that‘s meaning, when used in everyday life, promotes harmonious association among our friends, neighbors, and those we come in contact with. Recently, graciousness has been spoken about as a part of “mindfulness”, the idea of really paying attention to what is happening around you and taking action to improve situations, whether for yourself or others.
I often see examples in my environment concerning concepts I’m ruminating on. I was in line for pizza a week ago, Monday lunchtime. The line was long, and an elderly couple, looking to be in their 90s, were ahead of me, withered and stooped. Immediately in front of them were three teen girls, talking, giggling, and just having a good time. As the line slowly advanced, I saw that the oldest girl noticed the elders but went on talking and moving forward as they paid and proceeded to serve themselves.
I don’t think the girls had any intention of being unkind. I doubt that it occurred to them to let the couple go ahead of them go first. As I ate, I planned to speak to them, intent mostly on how I would approach them so they didn’t feel threatened, embarrassed, or feel that I was trying to chastise them “with a sword made of words.” After eating, I went to their table and explained the situation, that it was often hard on elderly people to stand in long lines. I suggested perhaps they could let them go ahead in line next time. I ended by saying warmly, “You girls have a good lunch.”
By tone and manner, I hope I gently conveyed the idea to them of practicing “mindfulness” and “graciousness” to the people around them. If not, perhaps I failed to make the world a kinder place, but that won’t stop me from trying again. Being gracious is not only the right thing to do, it’s quite satisfying.