Friday, January 27, 2012

The Power of Words

It is no secret that our internal state affects the choice of words we use in communicating. As someone said, the tongue is the interpreter of the heart. Our anger, arrogance, happiness, excitement, hatred etc. are expressed in our choice of words.

What may not be so obvious is that the reverse causation is also true: the choice of words we use affects our internal state. For example, if someone asks you, “How are you doing?”, you will feel differently if you say, “fine”, than if you say, “absolutely fantastic” or “best day of my life”. Simply choosing words that express how you would like to feel rather than how you feel in the moment will help bring you to your desired feeling.

This mechanism, which has been promoted by Anthony Robbins and others, is nothing new in Islam. The emphasis of dhikr (remembrance of Allah) by the tongue as a means to purifying the spiritual heart is clear proof that what we utter impacts the state of our heart. “Surely, in the dhikr of Allah do the hearts find rest.” [13:28]

Masters of spiritual purification also recognize the tongue as one of the six ‘gateways’ to the spiritual heart – the other five being the eyes, ears, stomach, genitals, hands, and feet. So, for example, just as what we see can affect our heart, so too can what we say affect our heart.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon Him) also made the following relevant statement: “When the son of Adam rises in the morning, his body parts call out to the tongue saying ‘Fear Allah in us, for we are affected by your utterance, if you go steadfast so do we, but if you go astray so do we’”. (Tirmidhi)

As a child, when someone would ask me how I was doing, I was infamous for retorting a very unemotional, one or two word response – “good”, “ok”, “not bad”, or the untouchable, but sometimes deceptive, “alhamduliLlah”. Or on a good day, I would say, “pretty good” (people who know me are likely nodding with smiles right now). Anyway, I have been working on changing that, and invite you to practice using words that better express how you would like to feel.

The next time someone asks us, “How are you?”, we can use it as an opportunity to change how we feel, saying something different than the plain vanilla. We can even have fun and be creative with the words we use, and catch people by surprise. “Ecstatic”, “never been better”, “egg-celent”, “pumped”, etc. You may sound like you’re on drugs, but I’m sure that even you felt at least some positive emotion simply by reading such eccentric responses.

We should be purposefully choosing our words in ways that make us feel how we would like to feel, all the time – not just when we are asked “How are you?” But implementing this habit can be challenging when we are overcome by negative emotions. More on that some other time.

Our choice of words doesn’t just affect the state of the speaker, but also of the listener, since our ears are another ‘gateway’ to the spiritual heart. People who are able to generate positive emotions in others through their own words tend to be more liked and sought after. And conversely, people who’s words generate negative feelings or no feelings at all, tend be avoided or ignored.


There are two words in particular that are detrimental to our personal development. They should never be uttered. Unfortunately, we use these words too frequently, without realizing its consequences. Stay tuned for my next post inshaAllah.

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