Ahimsa 3: Build Bonds

The words and the tone of voice we use, is a tool for building relationships. Sadly, most of us use this tool not for building and nurturing relationships, but for destroying them. Passive violence like angry words, and a harsh tone are as bad and injurious as physical violence and cause just as much damage.

Can our tone of voice be violent enough to destroy relationships and invoke fear and mistrust? Our words may be the right ones, but certainly the tone in which we say them could be violent. Just think of the violent words used to describe various tones which we use on a daily basis……….harsh, cold, irritable, sarcastic, rude, angry, furious, cruel, snappy, aggressive, nasty, argumentative……. Now think of a more ahimsa tone ………..gentle, warm, caring, affectionate, concerned, interested………With which tone would you prefer being spoken to?

A letter from a reader says, “ I do not consider myself as an angry person, nor do I deliberately use harsh words, but several times my family has told me, ‘It’s not what you say, that upsets us, it’s your tone. Could they be right?”’ Of course they are right, because so much violence that is played out on a daily basis happens because of passive violence like words and tones. Just as our words are important, so too is our tone of voice for it reflects understanding, compassion and sincerity, or the complete lack of it.

“ Don’t use that tone with me,” we admonish our children, when they get aggressive with us. Usually most of us use a snappy tone when we are tired or anxious. At this point, if we are not aware of it, our tone becomes not only snappy, but also harsh and unloving. If we are at home, wives and children also pick up such vibes. Your snappy tone can make them bad -tempered and sullen.

When they reply you, their tone will also be unloving. And so the cycle gets repeated. If you are at work, your colleagues will label you as bad tempered and unapproachable and your reputation and work relationships will suffer.

Many a family’s harmony is ruined by harsh voices. Savitha, a mother of teenage children was desperate to get her crumbling family life back together again. “ They were such lovely children when they were small,” she said to her friend, “ but now in their adolescent years, it seems as if every sentence is punctuated with a negative, hurtful word or an ugly tone.” No matter how much I nag them, they refuse to change.” Her friend reminded her that back then, she too was a much gentler person.

“ What do you mean ?” Savitha said indignantly.

“ Don’t you realise that your tone too has changed a lot? Your job has made you constantly irritable and it shows in your voice.”

Savitha recorded her voice when she was at the dining table and found that her friend was right. She was appalled at how crabby and nasty she sounded, and how shrill her voice had become over the years. She decided to begin with herself, and deliberately made her voice soft and gentle. The result was that over a short period of time, her family life had improved.

A non violent tone of voice is important not just for families, but for teachers as well. While watching a group of small children play at ‘teachers’, I heard one child who was ‘teacher’, say, “ Don’t you dare,” – and a little later, “- just you try it, missy and see what I will do.” It was said in such a ferocious tone that scared all the other children into sitting absolutely still. The same thing happened when each child played teacher. It didn’t take long for the parent to investigate and find out that the real teacher’s tone was aggressive and scary.

A middle aged secretary working for a young boss told me how her boss’ tone drove her to always have a letter of resignation in her handbag. She became a woman who was constantly angry and brought her frustrations home. It didn’t do her home life any good. Then she decided not to let him get to her and to be her normal ahimsa self. No matter how violent his tone was during the day, Mrs B always smiled and spoke politely and wished him good night, adding an equally pleasant, “ See you tomorrow, sir, “ as she left the office. As days went by, the other staff noticed that the boss no longer said, “Get lost,” in an insulting, dismissive tone, but had begun to copy Mrs B’s tone and words to the younger staff. Just as violence begets violence, ahimsa words and tone also pave the way for more ahimsa attitudes.

We live in times where fast living , inequity in various forms, constant aggression and competitiveness makes life difficult. Perhaps for some, it is easier to turn to violence rather than walk the harder road of non violence. These people destroy lives. But those like Mrs B, who live the ahimsa way, change lives. They also show us that more people live the ahimsa way, than the himsa way. So if are an ahimsa person and wish to be counted or share your story, email the writer at ushajesudasan@gmail.com