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Be Careful What You Say

Words matter, so use them wisely

by Helen Gwynne-Kinsey

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To consider the impact that our words may have upon others.

Preparation and materials


  1. Show the image of the three wise monkeys (no words).

    Direct the students to think about what each monkey is doing.

  2. Show the image of the three wise monkeys (with words).

    Explain that the concept of the three wise monkeys possibly has its origins in Japan, and that its focus is on making sure that a person carries out only actions that are considered to be right.

  3. Point out that the prohibitions are all quite straightforward, and suggest that wise people should avoid putting themselves in positions where they might be involved in actions that are not considered to be morally or ethically correct. At times, it can be difficult to avoid seeing or hearing things that might be considered to be wrong. However, perhaps the third prohibition - ‘speak no evil’ - is easier to uphold.

  4. The prohibition against harming another person through speech is also found in the Ten Commandments. These principles serve as the foundation of acceptable behaviour within both the Jewish and Christian religious traditions. For example, within Judaism, the great power of speech is acknowledged, and wrongdoing relating to speech is known as ‘lashon hara’, which means ‘evil tongue’. The term covers many types of harmful speech such as slander, saying nasty things about another person, spreading rumours and relating unpleasant facts. Jewish scripture suggests that the tongue is such a dangerous weapon that it must be kept hidden from view behind two protective walls (the mouth and the teeth) in order to prevent it from being misused.

  5. A tale from one branch of the Jewish faith illustrates the danger of improper speech about others.

    A member of the Jewish community had been spreading malicious lies about the local rabbi (the religious leader). Reflecting later, he realized that he had done wrong and went to ask the rabbi for forgiveness, claiming that he would do anything to make things right. The rabbi told him to take a feather pillow, cut it open and scatter the feathers in the wind. The man thought this rather strange, but decided that it would be simple enough, so he went ahead. Afterwards, he returned to the rabbi to let him know that he had completed the task that he had been set. At this, the rabbi said, ‘Now go and collect back in all of the feathers. For you can no more make amends for the damage your words have done than you can collect back in the feathers.

Time for reflection

Explain that the moral of this tale is that, just as it would have been impossible to collect back in all of the feathers after they had been released, so evil speech can never be fully recalled either.
Remind the students to be aware of what they say to, or about, others in school each day. Ask them to take the time to consider the effect that their words might have upon the other person.

Dear God,
Please help us to be careful in the words that we use and the things that we say.
Please help us to think before we speak.
Please help us to consider the impact that our words could have upon other people.
Please help us to speak about others in a good way.
Help us to build up and encourage other people, rather than tearing them down.

Publication date: September 2020   (Vol.22 No.9)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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