“It’s only words” is a line from a Bee Gees’ song and we’ve all heard “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.”  As some people might say these days: “NOT.”  Words can be deadly, whether wielded with deadly precision or unthinkingly thrown out.

While recently re-reading an Earlene Fowler book,” Goose on the Pond”, I came upon this story that perfectly illustrates the harmful power of words.

Many years ago in a village in Eastern Europe, there was an important business man who took a dislike to the new rabbi. Every chance he had, he talked about the rabbi behind his back.   To one person, he disparaged the rabbi’s beard.  To another, he asked, “Did you hear what he taught at temple today.”  He questioned the rabbi’s cleanliness  and asked someone else, “Did he learn the Torah from a goat herder?”  The rabbi ignored the behavior and talk.  After some weeks of this, a good friend of the rabbi spoke to the business man privately and confronted him, convicting him of his hurtful words.  The business man repented, and then, feeling guilty, went to the rabbi to ask for his forgiveness.

“What can I do to make restitution?” he asked.  After some thought, the rabbi said, “Take your finest feather pillow to the top of the highest hill, cut it open and when all the feathers have blown away, come back and let me know.”

The businessman did this, then returned, asking the rabbi, “Now am I forgiven?”

The rabbi smiled gently.  “There is one more thing.  Gather all the feathers and put them back in the pillow.

The businessman gasped, “But that’s impossible.  They’ve been blown far away by the wind.”

The wise rabbi responded, “Yes and just like that, it’s impossible to undo the damage your words have done.”

The businessman left, sadder but wiser.

  1. summerstommy says:

    I do like this story Janet but what a harsh way to teach a lesson.But i think the business man did get the Rabbi’s point.

  2. colonialist says:

    This is sadly true. Some words, even spoken in haste with no real intention to cause hurt, will create a wound that will never heal. At best, it can be bandaged over.

    • While some hurts may never completely go away, many can, if not heal, greatly lessen in their impact. If the people involved are able to talk about it, that may help, but often you can’t do that, for whatever reason. In that case, I think the best way is for the person who’s been hurt to try to move on and realize that one person’s opinion doesn’t define them. I admit, that’s not easy but I think it’s worth the effort.


  3. Alastair says:

    Woah! That’s a point and a half

    • Effectively and simply made, don’t you think, but blindingly obvious!


      • Alastair says:

        Yes it is. The old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is wrong. I’ve always said to my kids “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can hurt and slice you”

  4. happyface313 says:

    So very true! Beautiful story!
    Have a very HAPPY day! 🙂

  5. Joe Owens says:

    This is so true Janet. I have dealt with this sort of thing and people don’t always see how quickly the words they carelessly utter can do irreparable damage. I am thankful to be taught early on to guard my tongue. 🙂

    • Good for you, Joe. Sometimes the problem isn’t that you said anything wrong, but that the other person took it the wrong way. I think the possibility for this is even greater with the internet and social media, where you can’t see the other person’s body language and facial expressions or give immediate feedback.


      • Joe Owens says:

        This is exactly a comment my wife makes often to our eighteen year old son who bemoans his lack of success with dating. They text so much and you have no way of knowing how it is received.

  6. another version is: Keep your words sweet, for tomorrow you may have to eat them. Randy

  7. Dear Janet,

    I wonder if there’s a person alive who can’t relate to this. Wounding from ill-spoken words or biting sarcasm can do more damage than bullets. Bullets only kill the flesh, words kill the spirit.

    Years ago in high school, a thoughtless guidance counselor told me I wasn’t college material. He went so far as to suggest trade school or marriage. Of course he was judging by my GPA which reflected my immaturity and lack of interest in certain subjects. For years I translated his words to mean “I’m a dummy.”

    Guess I’ve said enough.



    • High school’s a difficult time for many people for a variety of reasons and a hard time to try to deal with things of this nature. I’m glad you’ve finally worked past what this man said, as what you’ve accomplished makes this patently untrue. I don’t know how big your school was, but he obviously didn’t know much about you other than the GPA information (and as you said, the GPA issues were partly your fault.)

      I must say, though, that trade school doesn’t mean that you aren’t intelligent (even though many people thing that), but that you may have a different set of abilities that wouldn’t be utilized as well through college, which isn’t as hands-on. A number of people who go to college might better spend their time working or volunteering and then going back when they’re more mature.

      Yours is a perfect example of the hurtful power of words and their long-lasting effect. I’m sorry you had an example to share!


  8. Joyce says:

    I can relate to Rochelle’s above reply. A similar situation happened to me in high school too but with other students, who were cruel (beyond words,). It cut deeper, like a sword to the heart. Words can cut deeper than a sword, and are irreparable. Forgiveness must come from the heart of the recipient of the words spoken, and that is not easy with many, or anyone, maybe because the spoken words cut to the soul. When I was having a problem with forgiveness on this issue I found a great scripture passage in the New Testament Bible in James 3:5-9 that addresses the ‘untamed’ tongue, and damaging effect it has. I am so thankful that whatever we do or say, God forgives us. It is the humans that have the difficulty in this, but we can only move on, past the hurt.

    • James speaks eloquently, and condemningly about the power of the tongue to hurt and the difficulty of restraining it. God does forgive, although there may still be consequences, but if we realize we’ve hurt someone, we need to ask for their forgiveness. If we’re the injured person, we need to forgive the person who hurt us, not for that person’s sake, even if they haven’t asked for forgiveness, but for our sake, so that we can let go and move on. That’s very difficult, perhaps impossible without God’s help. But it frees us.


  9. mpejovic says:

    Great story to illustrate how hurtful words can be. I should modify it and tell it to my kids, so they understand.

  10. dmmacilroy says:

    Dear Janet,

    Four things come not back—The spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life, and the neglected opportunity.

    Good post. Thank you.



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