Fruitful words

Like a beautiful flower,
Brightly colored but lacking scent,
So are well-spoken words
Fruitless when not carried out.

Like a beautiful flower,
Brightly colored and with scent,
So are well-spoken words
Fruitful when carried out.
Dhammapada v 51-52, translated by Gil Fronsdal

I see several meanings in these verses: sincere vs. insincere words; pleasing but empty words; promises kept and ignored.

This being a political season both in America and Australia, there are a lot of words unconnected to deeds flying around. This disconnect may be why so many of us think of politics as a stinky business. When a politician says something true (for example, “that’s not in my power to promise”), it’s like a breath of fresh air.

For us, only our own words can be made fruitful. There are two parts to the equation: being careful in what we say and doing everything we can to follow through on our words. The most important element here is simply truthfulness. If we hold back from saying “I love you” when we don’t, a world of hurt can be avoided. If we say and mean “I love you”, then it’s perfectly natural to perform the actions that fulfill the words.

If we say “I’ll be there” and mean “I’ll try to be there, if nothing else comes up”, then our words are not only empty but misleading.

The most important thing we can do is think before we speak, and take our own words and their effects seriously. If we don’t, surely no one else will. To me, care with speech is based on a real understanding that what we do (to ourselves and others) matters at the most fundamental level. When we are careless with the truth, a hurt comes into the world that cannot be undone.

This is why our words – beautiful and colorful – are only sweet-smelling and fruitful if they reflect our true and wholesome intentions.

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