I am not a huge Jodi Picoult fan, but the contemporary American author was onto something when she wrote in her book Salem Falls, “Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall.” Although her words convey a similar message to the old Chasidic tale about a man running around town trying to collect the feathers he released from a pillow, splattered eggs just present a much more vivid image than fluffy feathers floating around the air. And more accurate, I believe.
Words can be helpful; words can be meaningful, and words can come very close to accurately conveying what we are thinking.
But words can also distort the truth, cause immense pain, and destroy someone’s life.
Talk about your splattered eggs!
With three small children running around my house, a splattered egg is really one of my worst nightmares. I can just picture my infant rolling around in it while my 2 year-old rubs her hands in the mess (then proceeds to make egg hand-prints all over the house), and my 4 year-old starts throwing pieces everywhere. But as hard as this mess would be to clean up (and I get a little anxious just thinking about it), it is nothing compared to the mess that is created when words are not used carefully and appropriately.
Not surprisingly, Jodi Picult was not the first one to recognize the splattered-egg potential of words. The Chinese philosopher Confucius who died in 479 BCE said, “Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know more,” showing the immense power words hold and the basis that this power serves in our lives.
Even before that, however, the book of Leviticus really set the tone by advising, “you shall not go up and down as a talebearer among your people” (19:16). We are, according to this text, not supposed to gossip and share stories about each other to each other. Later, the book adds “you shall not wrong one another,” (25:17) a caution that is traditionally thought to be referring to speech. Thousands of years ago, just as today, words had the power to harm people and to make a splattered egg of their lives.
I have been following various current events lately, based both in Israel and here in the United States, centered around the elections and not, and I often wonder what Leviticus, Confucius, or Jodi Picoult would have to say about our use of words. From sharing a story on Facebook that really serves no purpose than to entertain some while others are hurt to totally misleading readers with a headline choice to spreading out-of-context sound bits on commercials so that voters feel as if none of the candidates are worth their vote, I question, on a daily basis, why we all use our words in such as way and how we could use them better.
Just to throw in one more thought about words, the 20th century English author Aldous Huxley said, “Thanks to words, we have been able to rise above the brutes; and thanks to words, we have often sunk to the level of the demons.” I would encourage us all to rise above the brutes…and not get egg all over our faces (and houses!).