What do “Words”, a Water Oak,
and Howard Cosell All Have In Common?
By Jim "Gymbeaux" Brown, January 4, 2017
Wisdom can be found in the most strangest of places. I have found wisdom on a Chinese fortune cookie, on the front of t-shirts, on the back of t-shirts, and even on Facebook and Twitter posts. The following story came from a book on Golf or so I thought when I bought it. Most books on golf are instruction books on how to swing, how to get out of trouble, how to chip or how to putt the ball. This one was different. Zen Golf by Dr. Joseph Parent is as the title would suggest, a little bit about Zen and a little bit about golf. Turned out it was almost entirely about Zen thinking, keeping your mind in the place it needs to be during a golf swing and very little about the game itself. The book could have been titled Zen Life or Zen Thinking or Zen Business and Sales. Some other books I have read were written by Wallace Wattles in 1910 and they too had a message for the ages. Throughout his books, just like Dr. Parent’s books, Wattles suggests that you MUST “think in a certain way” to achieve what you want to achieve. Wallace and Parent are saying the same thing.
So what does all that have to do with Words, a Water Oak and Howard Cosell? Thought you would never ask. It’s January 2017 and even in Louisiana you experience a form of winter where the grass turns brown, leaves turn brown and fall to the ground. We rarely ever see snow; winter creates a bland type of mental picture. This year I turned the tables a bit by planting winter rye grass and I have a brilliant green yard all winter long – the only one on my street. With green grass comes grass cutting and that is what I did today. Completing this picture for you I want you to think of a massive Water Oak Tree sprawling out in the back yard. On one hand I had green grass that needed to be cut and I also had a ton of brown oak leaves on the ground that needed to be picked up - first.
As I began to gather up the leaves I could not help but notice more leaves falling not only on my head but also in areas I had already cleared. That is when it struck me, a thought, not the leaves. God only knows how long that oak tree has stood in her position or how many families have enjoyed her shade and the pain of cleaning up after her. She kind of resembles life; she just keeps doing her thing. The leaves on the other hand have a short life span, months to be exact, then they fall and eventually cleared or they decay.
The leaves of my Water Oak are like words. They are everywhere and no matter how much diligence you use to clean them up, every one of them, it is an impossible task. Don’t believe me, try it. Leaves become sticky and stick to everything telling you that at least this one leaf has no intention of being swept up with the others. Some fall in out of reach places like a roof only to be later blown back onto an area you have cleared.
So too are spoken words. As Dr. Parent so aptly describes in this short story, words are like feathers in the wind.
A nineteenth-century folktale tells about a man who went about slandering the town’s wise man. One day, he went to the wise man’s home and asked for forgiveness. The wise man, realizing that this man had not internalized the gravity of his transgressions, told him that he would forgive him on one condition: that he go home, take a feather pillow from his house, cut it up, scatter the feathers to the wind and return when done to the wise man’s house.
Though puzzled by this strange request, the man was happy to be let off with so easy a penance. He quickly cut up the pillow, scattered the feathers and returned to the house.
“Am I now forgiven?” he asked.
“Just one more thing,” the wise man said. “Go now and gather up all the feathers.”
“But that’s impossible. The wind has already scattered them.”
“Precisely,” he answered. “And it is as impossible to repair the damage done by your words as it is to recover the feathers. Your words are out there in the marketplace, spreading hate, even as we speak.”
Not much difference between the feathers and the oak leaves in my yard is there not? They can be beautiful and enlightening but they can be ugly and defaming. In both cases, once spoken they cannot be gathered up like leaves on the ground or the feathers in the wind. You may be able to retrieve some but certainly not all no matter how hard you try or even if you obtain help to do so; some will still remain in the corners, on the roofs or even in the trees just waiting to fall or in the case of words, to be heard.
In their book Gossip: Ten Pathways to Eliminate it from your Life and Transform Your Soul, Lori Palatnik and Bob Burg explain how we all have accepted the negativity of words by thinking we can shun them off by ignoring them as if they were never spoken. But they were spoken and when spoken in our midst and we choose to say nothing we have accepted them at their face value rather than confronting them head on. Walking away without indicating the reason is better than staying without a word but even just walking away will not give the speaker the knowledge that the words spoken were harmful or hateful and serve no useful purpose. Like the leaves, they just lie there on the floor waiting for someone to pick them up otherwise they will lay there until they eventually decay. Still they serve as a constant reminder for as long as they lie there for everyone to remember. Palatnik and Burg go on to say that you should NEVER, EVER, say anything negative about someone unless it is to their face and others cannot hear them. This is nothing less than what you would want or expect from others is it not?
To demonstrate just how devastating words can be one need only remember what happened to the famed reporter turned sports announcer Howard Cosell. He would refer to football running backs that were small in size and very quick as “little monkeys.” His comment on air about a running back “running like a little monkey” got him fired for making what others perceived to be a racist comment. People who knew Howard Cosell knew he was not a racist but the damage was done; the leaf and feather were in the air or on the ground and could not be retrieved.http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Look%20at%20that%20little%20monkey%20run