I was with my girlfriend in NYC when she sat down on a bench outside next to some woman. My girlfriend lit up a cigarette. The woman sitting on the bench became very angry and said “You should die from cancer from smoking those” as she got up and stomped away. My girlfriend was very upset at me for not saying something back to this woman. She went on for hours talking about this over and over. I don’t like to create negative energy, I am not comfortable yelling at people, was I wrong?
As I discussed in the article on Ahimsa, non-violence , words have a tremendous power. But, the power words have depend on both the energy given the words by the person who speaks them and by the energy given the words by the actions taken by the people who hear those words.
In this situation, the woman on the bench put tremendous negative energy into her words. Now, what would have happened if your action was to yell at her?
Yelling involves the creation of anger and tremendous negative energy. The words she said would be the fuel that lights the fire of your anger. Your anger in turn would be adding tremendous energy to her words. By creating any action based on any words spoken to you, you make the words part of you, part of your patterns, part of your memories, part of who you are. If your action in response to the words is negative, the negative energy from the words and the negative energy from your actions become part of you. They also become part of everyone around you who hears your angry words. Thus, the more people who are exposed to your anger the larger is the amount of overall negative energy that is created.
Naturally, your angry response would result in an even angrier response from the woman. Now, her original words are associated in both of your minds with all of the negative energy from both of your angry responses.
Words filled with negative energy are like gigantic sponges that can absorb endless amounts of negative energy. Through a life time of patterns that teach you to respond to negative words with negative words, each negative word has the power to create more negative words. Once negative words are spoken and the listener’s action is to create more negative words, things quickly spiral out of control as both people begin to pour as much negative energy as they can possibly create into the situation.
Therefore, I will tell you that in my opinion not responding was the correct choice. It is by far the most difficult choice in life to make - to not to respond to negative words, as nearly all of our patterns teach us to respond to negative words with negative words. You must fight this until you teach yourself new patterns that allow you to respond with positive energy to negative energy, to say nothing if you cannot say something positive.
Of course, anyone who is capable of sensing the energy around them simply could not respond with negative words to any situation. As soon as the words started leaving their mouth, they would feel the disturbance and the affect of their words and would stop.
By not saying anything, by allowing the words to just pass through you with no response on your part, with no angry thought on your part about the words, the negative energy the words have just dissipates and disappears. If your action to the person is silence and thoughts of love and positive energy toward the person, than the words are instantly neutralized. You do not know why this person reacted this way, maybe they have asthma or they lost a loved one to cancer. Perhaps their harsh words were simply to shock your girlfriend into realizing the consequences that might come from smoking. You do not know her reasons and so should not judge her. Responding with anger and negative words is making a judgment that she spoke her words to hurt your girlfriend, and you do not know that is the case.
Your girlfriend’s decision to talk about what the woman said also created negative energy. The moment she began to talk about those words she began to feed energy into these words. Her anger at your not responding, and her anger towards this woman, both will all be associated with the memory of those words, giving those words in her memory a tremendous negative energy. The more she talked about those words, the more life she gave them, the more energy she gave them, the more power she gave them.
Can words such as “You should die from smoking” actually kill you? If you take the words and make them part of yourself, part of your thoughts, feed the words with large amounts of energy, concentrate on them, talk about them, rehash them, think about them, than the words can actually gain so much energy that they could influence your life, i.e. they can become part of your patterns and scripts. Just let the words go, do not think about them, just let them pass through you and forget them, and they have no power over your life.
Finally, I want to make a rather interesting point on my answer. Most people would respond to the question by analyzing the situation. Was it rude for your girlfriend to sit down next to someone else and smoke the cigarette? I know that in Manhattan you cannot smoke inside a building, so a bench outside is the only place someone can sit and smoke. The woman could have sat anywhere, but your girlfriend could only sit on the bench to smoke, so maybe she had a right to smoke there. But, perhaps, she still should have asked the lady. This is the type of discussion we usually get into when such questions are asked. Who was right and who was wrong, did this person provoke that person, etc. These are great questions and debates, but the question here was not who was right and who was wrong, but how do you respond to angry words.
Normally, we think that if we did something wrong than it is OK that someone says angry words to us and we should not get angry, and if we did nothing wrong, than we have a right to get angry. Our response is determined by how we judge the situation. In this view, it becomes very important to analyze the situation. But, what I am saying is that no matter what leads someone to say angry words your response should never be to return more angry words back. Choosing to either say nothing, or to respond with understanding and a willingness to try to calmly find a mutual understanding, is the right course of action. In this situation, this is a stranger who you will never see again, so it is better not to respond. If it is someone you have a relationship with, it is better to try to talk about it calmly and find a mutual understanding, though this might mean you keep silent until the person is calm enough to talk.
It is likely that your girlfriend feels that a man should protect a woman, and by not responding to this woman's negative words, you girlfriend felt like you failed to protect her. But, if you had responded to her words, even if you had responded to them without anger, you would have given those words life and energy, you would have fed them and turned them from a small lifeless creature into a monster. By keeping silent and allowing the words to just fade away you were actgually protecting her from the words themselves.