On Speaking

The ability to speak is what sets human beings apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Speaking is a very important part of our social intercourse. The manner in which we speak or not speak determines the quality and the depth of our relationships in any social milieu.

The manner in which people speak determines what they are, and that is how most of us judge people. Rahim says

Crow and cuckoo look alike from a distance, but we make out who is who only when they open their mouth.

In Raghuvamsa, Kalidasa says,

“Conversation is the antecedent to any friendship.”

When our speech has logic and meaning, people will listen to what we speak. An empty word without its meaning is worthless and there can be no meaning without a word in the first place. In fact, Kalidasa begins Raghuvamsa with

“To bless me with the ability to derive the pertinent word and its meaning I adore the Parents of Universe, Paarvati and Parameshvara, who are like an inseparable entity of sound and its sense.” This shows how it is necessary to speak what exactly we mean and speak with a meaning.

Since, we human beings are so fortunate to have the gift of speech , we should exercise this ability with discretion and responsibility. The ability to speak is a double-edged sword. Speaking is how we take all that wisdom and experience in our heads out to the world. The spoken word connects our intent and actions. People win bouquets and brickbats because of what and how they speak. People who speak well are adept at building friendship with new people and consolidating the relationship with existing friends.

The Rig Veda says,

Just as groats are sieved to refine them, our words should be refined by our heart and soul. In such thought out words does Goddess Lakshmi stay. In simple words, our fortune is a function of our speech.

Suaveness in speech is as important the meaning and logic. Again Rahim says,

Speak well with everyone, it radiates happiness all around. This is what mesmerizes all, so eschew any harsh talk.

Kabir too says the same thing, in different words.

Speak in such a manner that you yourself are lost in it, it showers bliss of love & peace on you and the entire humanity.

In the Ramayana, there is a classic anecdote that demonstrates how good conversation skills lead to a great relationship. When Hanuman meets Lord Ram for the first time on the outskirts of the Kishkindha forest, Rama gets impressed by the way Hanuman speaks with complete relevance.

Delegated by Sugreeva who is desiring friendship with you two, I have come here and by name I am Hanuma. I am another monkey (Vanara) and his minister, the son of Wind-god (Pavan).

Lord Rama gets charmed by the tone, tenor and essence of what Hanuman speaks. Lord Rama tells his brother Lakshmana:

‘See how excellently Hanuman has spoken. He did not utter a single irrelevant and insignificant word nor did he omit an appropriate word. He has not taken more time than was necessary to express what he wanted to say. Non-dissonant is the tenor that he spoke in and can never be forgotten.’

What we speak shows our knowledge, how we speak shows our personality. It enhances respectability to an individual and at a macro level, helps in projecting and protecting one’s culture.

Bhartrihari sums up the importance of speech in these great verses:

केयूराणि न भूषयन्ति पुरुषं हारा न चन्द्रोज्ज्वलाः
न स्नानं न विलॆपनं न कुसुमं नालङ्कृता मूर्धजाः ।
वाण्येका समलङ्करोत्यनुदिनं या संस्कृता धार्यते
क्षीयन्ते खलु भूषणानि सततं वाग्भूषणं भूषणम् ॥

“Armlets don’t adorn a person, nor necklaces like moon aglow;
Not baths, colognes, not hair well-styled, not even flowers white as snow;
Only speech adorns a person, well-refined and sounding clever;
Jewels wear out and lose their value; good words help one shine forever.”

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