Of ‘Respect for the word’
   Date :14-May-2024

Respect for the word 
By Vijay Phanshikar
“ Respect for the word is the first commandment in the discipline by which a man can be educated to maturity -- intellectual, emotional and moral. “Respect for the word -- to employ it with scrupulous care and incorruptible heart-felt love of truth -- is essential if there is to be any growth in a society or in the human race. “To misuse the word is to show contempt for Man. It undermines bridges and poisons the wells. It causes Man to regress down the long path of his evolution. “‘But I say unto you, that every idle word that men speak --- .’” - Dag Hammarskjold, Secretary General of the United Nations, in one of the notings in his diary -- titled ‘Markings’ in English -- published after his death in an air crash. Originally in Swedish, the diary with title ‘Vagmarken’ was first published in 1963, and in England (by Faber & Faber) in 1964. Translated into English by W H Auden and Lief Joberg.
IN THESE few sentences, Dag Hammarskjold (pronounced Hamarshold) pinpoints the crux of education, of maturity, of human refinement. The quintessence of education is respect for the word -- minus which, human regression takes place, he insists. Dag Hammarskjold was a man of incalculable merit and refinement. As the world’s top diplomat, words became his main tool -- and used those with a rare aplomb. That valuable experience and a fine education led Dag Hammarskjold to believe firmly that a wrongly employed word could be disastrous. So, employ the word with scrupulous care and incorruptible heart-felt love of truth, he urges. Factually, this has been the core of human refinement -- respect for the word, respect for whatever one says, respect for the person or persons who are expected to hear the utterance. So, respect for self and respect for others.
The concept, thus, is rooted in a fine and mature understanding of one’s own self. For, a wrong or negative self-image will mean irresponsible expression, and that in turn will mean an insult of the recipient of the communication, or a careless attitude towards the conversation between persons. This is how the concept expands -- from self to others, from spoken word or written word to the word received by those who listen. What matters, then, is not just word made up of letters but also the tone and tenor in which the expression is delivered. True, communication can be -- and often is -- wordless as well. There are situations when no words are required to communicate between humans. But even that so-called wordless communication rides on the shoulders of the intended meaning whose material form is word.
So, as psychologists, philosophers and linguistic experts conclude, even thoughts are not without language (words) -- uttered or unuttered. So, words are everything by way of medium of communication. So, use those with care, caution, and concern. Responsible words have made tremendous human progress possible. But used wrongly, the words also have proved to be the undoing of the human community -- through countless examples in human history. Dag Hammarskjold cautions us against the abuse and misuse of the word. He appeals to our good senses to remain careful while employing the words in any communication. Possibly, as a top diplomat, he had seen the world coming to blows because of words wrongly used. Hence this word of caution. Possibly.