Education

How the word pollutes

Illustration: Satheesh Vellinezhi

Illustration: Satheesh Vellinezhi   | Photo Credit: Satheesh Vellinezhi

In your homes, classrooms and workspaces, refrain from this “invisible” form of pollution.

When the word “pollution” is used, it normally conjures an image of oil spills in oceans, buildings covered in industrial dust and garbage spilling over on roads, often the plastic bag, a meal for roaming cattle. It is easy to see the devastation that pollution causes, and across society; there is more awareness to find solutions to remedy its harmful effects.

There are also “invisible” forms of pollution. This type of pollution weaves its way into our homes, classrooms and workspaces in an insidious manner. Its tentacles spread in a million different directions and its effects are long lasting and venomous. Yet, because it seems so natural, we indulge in it, without any real awareness. “Word” pollution and the various ways we contribute to it, is an eye-opener on how prevalent it is.

Power of words

Words contain within them, an enormous power. Many of us might remember words that inspired us in the form of books which shaped our foundation and opened us to new ways of seeing the world. You might have a favourite poem or an excerpt of prose that gives you strength in times of crisis. It could be a conversation that you had with a friend, teacher, family member or colleague, whose concern was couched in words that had the power to heal.

In the same way, we can feel the way our body responds, when we hear words that come from anger, jealousy and resentment. One of my students shared how she would still recall the words used by her former teacher that undermined her confidence and caused her to doubt her abilities. She said it took her years to face those words and gather courage to see that the words came from a place of ignorance. Like any tool, words can be both beneficial and harmful, depending on how and why we use them.

Silent killer

Most of us have indulged in some form of gossip and enjoyed it immensely. At first glance, it might seem harmless or we can even deceive ourselves into believing that we are trying to “help” someone by indulging in it. Whatever form it takes, gossip is the energy we spend discussing, analysing and making judgements about someone else’s life.

As a teacher, I have seen the ill effects of gossip both in the classroom and the staffroom. When Lavanya(name changed) who was normally a bubbly teenager, suddenly became withdrawn, we were concerned. She was someone who loved to participate in all aspects of school life but she started frequently missing classes and skipping school. When we called her in to speak to us, we found that she had been the subject of rumours in the classroom, initiated by students who felt resentful of her popularity. Some of them had started to gossip about her on Social media and, the cyber bullying in some ways was uglier than the classroom events.

The scars caused by this took a long time to heal and, through support from her teachers, Lavanya found ways to strengthen herself. Those who had indulged in it admitted that they never knew that something that was meant to be harmless had gone out of control.

That is the nature of gossip. It is a form of energy that can find expression through destructive means. The solution is to really see within oneself the reasons why one is addicted to talking about other people. It could be that our minds are bored and looking for excitement. Perhaps, it is the thrill of talking about someone’s life in a demeaning manner so that we feel superior.

A colleague who used to constantly talk about other people found one day, that she herself was the subject of staffroom conversation. The best way to curb its effects, is to be more aware. The next time one gossips, become aware of what it does to you and others, and see if it is really worth contributing to word pollution.

To meet someone who rarely complains is a rarity — an uncle who passed away in his nineties was one such gem. While he would narrate his various experiences, it was always from a place of true acceptance. The words he used in conversations reflected this. It never slipped into any form of blame. He saw them as events and always said that people could only act according to their level of development. When we complain constantly about people, we pollute our ideas about them. We see people as a complaint and thus cannot see any other facets of their life or personality.

Many years ago, an experience brought this into focus. While working under a colleague who was extremely demanding and erratic, we found ourselves complaining about her. In a way, discussing her became a way of bonding for the rest of our group. Not once did we think of taking any action, such as bringing it to her attention or letting someone higher up know.

Our complaining was a way by which we avoided responsibility. The work environment was toxic as the energy was always negative and in hindsight, she probably sensed this and became more aggressive. Many years after I had left the organisation, it came to our notice that she had been suffering for years from a serious medical ailment that probably contributed to her behaviour. It made all our complaints pale in comparison and a sheer waste of time.

No bans

Unlike other forms of pollution, we do not need any external bans or regulations. We do not even need to police other people. Gently observing ourselves will be a reminder of the effects of word pollution.

In all the roles you play — student, teacher, employee, a member of society — the quality of your genuine interaction will be a shining example of living life in a word pollution-free zone.

Enjoy your own journey as you explore ways to make your life word pollution, free.

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 2:03:51 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/How-the-word-pollutes/article16755285.ece

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