Where Wisdom is, where Peace abides, where Truth,
Majestic, changeless, and eternal, stands
Untouched by the illusions of the world;
For surely there is Knowledge, Truth, and Peace
For him who seeks.
Thoughts, words, acts—these combine to make up the entire life of every individual. Words and acts are thoughts expressed. We think in words. In the process of thinking, words are stored up in the consciousness, where they await expression and use as occasion may call them forth.
Words fit the mind which received them; they are the tally of the intellect which uses them. The meaner the mind, the more meager is the vocabulary. A limited and a capacious intellect alike expresses itself through a limited and an extensive use of words. A great mind expresses itself by the vehicle of flowing and noble language.
Words stand for conceptions. Conceptions are embodied in words. At the moment that a conception is formed in the mind, its corresponding word arises in the thought. Conceptions and words cannot be hidden away indefinitely. Sooner or later they will come forth into the outer world of expression. The matter of the universe is in ceaseless circulation. Its hidden things are continuously coming forth into open and visible life. Likewise the mental operations of men are ever in active circulation, and their hidden thoughts are daily expressing themselves in words and acts. The words and actions of every man are determined by the thoughts in which he habitually dwells.
Speech is audible thought. A man reveals himself through his speech. Whether he is pure or impure, foolish or vice, he makes his inner condition known through his speech. The foolish man is known by the way in which he talks; the wise man is known by the purity, gravity, and excellence of his speech. "He who would gain a knowledge of men." says Confucius, "must first learn to understand the meaning of words"
All wise men, saints, and great teachers have declared that the first step in wisdom is to control the tongue. The disciple of speech is a mental disciple. When a man controls his tongue, he controls his mind; when he purifies his speech, he purifies his mind. Speech and mind cannot be separated. They are two aspects of character.
A man may read Scripture, study religions, and practice mystical arts; but if he allows his tongue to run loosely, he will be as foolish at the end of all his labors as he was at the beginning.
A man may not read Scripture, nor study religions, nor practice ascetic arts; but if he controls his tongue, and studies how to speak wisely and well, he will become wise.
Wisdom is perceived in the words which are its expression. We speak of certain men—of Shakespeare for instance—as being wise. We never saw Shakespeare, and we know very little of his life; how, then, do we know he was wise? By his words only. Where there are wise words, we know there is a wise mind. A foolish man may, like a parrot, repeat wise words, but a wise man frames wise sentences; his wisdom is shown in originally expressed language.
Why do men speak of words as being bad or good, degrading or inspiring, low or lofty, weak or strong? Is it not because they unconsciously recognize that words cannot be dissociated from thoughts? Why do pure-minded people avoid a man who habitually uses impure language? Is it not because they know that such words proceed from an unclean mind?
It is impossible for any being to give utterance to words which are not already lodged in his mind fit the form of thought. The impure mind cannot speak pure words; the pure mind cannot speak impure words. The ignorant cannot speak learnedly, nor the learned ignorantly. The foolish man cannot speak wisely, nor the wise foolishly.
Altered speech follows an altered mind. When a man turns from evil to good, his conversation becomes cleansed. As a man increases in wisdom, he watches, modifies, and perfects his speech.
If the foolish and the wise are known by their words, what, then, is the speech of folly, and what the language of wisdom?
A man is foolish:
If he talks aimlessly and incoherently
If he engages in impure conversations
If he utters falsehood
If he speaks ill of the absent, and carries about evil reports concerning others
If he frames flattering words
If he utters violent and abusive words
If his speech is irreverent, and his words are directed against the great and good
If he speaks in praise of himself
A man is wise:
If he talks with purpose and intelligence
If his conversation is chaste
If he utters words of sincerity and truth
If he speaks well of and in defense of, the absent
If he speaks words of virtuous reproof
If his speech is gentle and kindly
If he talks reverently of the great and good
If he speaks in praise of others
We are all, now and always, justified and condemned by our words. The law of Truth is not held in abeyance, and every day is judgment day. For "every idle word" which one speaks he is at once ''called to account" in an immediate and certain loss of happiness and influence. By the words which we habitually utter we publish to the universe the degree of our intelligence and the standard of our morality, and receive back through them the judgment of the world. The fool thinks he is harshly judged and badly treated by others, not knowing that his real scourge is his own ungoverned tongue.
To control the tongue, to discipline the speech, to strive for the use of purer and gentler words—this is a very lowly thing, and one that is much despised; but it cannot be neglected by him who eagerly aspires to walk the way of wisdom.
More from James Allen
James Allen was a little-known philosophical writer and poet. He is best recognized for his book, As a Man Thinketh. Allen wrote about complex subjects such as faith, destiny, love, patience, and religion but had the unique ability of explaining these subjects clearly and in a way that is easy to understand. He often wrote about cause and effect, sowing and reaping, as well as overcoming sadness, sorrow, and grief. For more information on the life of James Allen, click here.