Words: Spoken or written, they carry powerful energy.
That’s what we are instructed by Native American Elders, leaders and mentors. They tell us:
“Choose your words carefully.”
“Be careful what you say. Someone could get hurt.”
“Say what you mean.”
I am reminded of that today. A prank is made at another’s expense. That person becomes hurt and cannot bear the pain, so that person takes their own life.
We cannot escape the power of words. Each of the Seven Grandfather Teachings (Niizhwaaswi Mishomis Kinomaget) addresses how we should speak our words:
1. Respect (Mnaadendimowin) guides us to honor others and not hurt them.
2. Love (Zaagidwin) guides us to speak peace.
3. Truth (Debwewin) guides us to be true and to speak the truth.
4. Bravery (Aakdehwin) guides us to speak-up for what we believe in, whatever the cost.
5. Wisdom (Nibwaakawin) guides us to speak well.
6. Honesty (Gwekwaadiziwin) guides us to not be deceitful.
7. Humility (Dbaasendiziwin) guides us to speak to all others as our equals.
I am reminded of the power of words because of things I have said, coming back at me.
I am also reminded of the power of words because of this story (a true story, but omitting names and places):
A few years back, I was reading a book at a picnic table. A man sits down at my table. I do not know him.
He makes small talk and after awhile I learn he is an off-duty tribal police officer.
He tells me this:
“I had one kid—he was thirteen or fourteen—always in trouble. I told him, ‘You keep runnin’ with so-and-so and you’ll end up in prison.’ And I keep arresting him and his old man keeps bailing him out of juvie. Then one day, this kid kills someone.”
“So I’m booking him and I ask him, ‘How come you killed that guy?’ And you know what he said? He said, ‘Because my old man always promised to take me fishing, but he never did.’”
“So I drive to the house–they got no phone–to inform his dad that his son is arrested for murder. He asks me why his son did that. So I told the dad what his son told me: “’Your son says he killed that guy because you never took him fishing.’”
“The next day, that dad killed himself. Blew his brains out with a shotgun.”
The man is quiet for a moment.
“I don’t think I should have told him,” he says.
I give him his moment and then I speak.
“You were just a mirror, that’s all,” I say.
“A mirror,” I told him. “You didn’t kill that man. You were just a mirror, holding life to his face.”
He nods, mumbling, “A mirror. That’s it.”
He seemed satisfied that someone finally answered a question that he didn’t know he had.
So we should ask ourselves before we speak: Does the delivery match the intent?