An old woman disliked her neighbour.
He was a good looking young man with a steady job who sometimes liked to have friends around for a party. This upset the old woman so she decided to get back at the young man. She began to gossip about him and spread rumours in the village that he was a crook. The poor man was arrested by the village police and accused of being a fraudster and a robber.
After an arduous and expensive trial, the young man was able to prove his innocence and was released from custody.
The young man felt humiliated and embarrassed. He felt his reputation was in tatters as a result of the gossip. He asked friends about who was responsible and eventually discovered it was the old woman who had been bad-mouthing him in the village. He gathered his evidence and testimonies and shared it with the village elders.
The old woman was brought before the elders. She smiled nervously when challenged and explained that her comments were just words and she meant no harm with her gossip.
The elders deliberated and then the village chief said to the old woman,“Before you leave us tonight you are to write down on a piece of parchment paper all of the words, comments, and gossip you made about your neighbour. You must cut up the paper and spread the piece throughout the village on your way home from here. Then you must come back tomorrow to hear our decision about your punishment.”
Dutifully, the old woman did what she was asked and the next day returned to the village elders to hear her fate. The village chief told the old woman, “Your punishment is to go out and gather all the pieces of parchment paper that you threw out yesterday. Every single piece of paper must be collected and returned. Do it now.”
The old woman was shocked and said, “I cannot do that! The wind will have spread the pieces of paper far and wide. Animals will tramp the pieces into the dust or eaten them. It’s an impossible task – I don’t know where to find all of the parchment pieces. It will take me forever and a day.”
The village elder then replied, “Then old woman, it is important for you to realise that simple words and gossip have the power to destroy a person’s honour to the extent it can never be fixed. If you are unable to say anything good about someone then it is better to say nothing at all. Let us all strive to be masters of our mouths so that we don’t have to be slaves of our words.”
The village elder went on, “Gossips are in some ways worse than robbers and fraudsters because they steal another person’s dignity, honour, reputation, and credibility which are very difficult to rebuild. Remember, when your feet slip, you can always recover your balance but when your tongue slips, you can never recover your words!”
The old woman realised the error of her ways and begged for forgiveness.
Words, actions, decisions, and behaviours all have consequences. They will impact the other person’s life and also yours. Words…what you say about others no matter if it is the truth or not shows how you act, what you think and do while others are not in the room. And people will wonder if you are doing the same thing to them when they are not in the room.
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