Destroying your neighbor

Paulo Coelho

Malba Tahan illustrates the dangers of words: a woman said so often that her neighbor was a thief that the young man was finally arrested. Some days later, they discovered that he was innocent and set him free. Then he sued the woman.

– Comments are not so serious – she said to the judge.

– Granted – answered the magistrate. – When you get back home today, write down everything bad you said about the young man, then tear up the paper and throw the bits away as you walk along. Come back tomorrow to hear the sentence.

The woman obeyed and returned the following day.

– You are pardoned if you give me the bits of paper you spread on the street yesterday. Otherwise you will be condemned to a year in prison – declared the magistrate.

– But that’s impossible! The wind has blown them all away!

– In the very same way, a simple comment can be spread by the wind and destroy a man’s honor, and afterwards it is impossible to repair the harm that has been done.

And he sent the woman off to jail.

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  1. […] Destroying your neighbor Paulo Coelho Malba Tahan illustrates the dangers of words: a woman said so often that… […]

  2. sido66 says:

    I remember a story which took place some years ago: in the information, a pedophile had just been arrested; the mom of a little boy had explained him ‘vaguely’ that he had “hurt” the children and that he had been stopped

    Some days later, I cross the mom ,and her son who says to me my primary school teacher is a pedophile. The mom horrified says to me: he said to his friends that his primary school teacher was a pedophile and now the children say to all that the maitre is a pedophile.

    We thus discuss with the child who says to us: ” yes he is pedophile because he is not still kind with me and he gives me bad marks, then I say that he is a pedophile like that he will go to prison and I I shall not be sad any more ”

    And we to explain him really what wants to say the “pedophile” word and the consequences of ” its words “: and he to understand the power of the words and since to pay attention on every word which he uses




    Je me souviens d’une histoire qui s’est déroulée il y a quelques années : aux informations , un pédophile venait d’íªtre arríªté ; la maman d’un petit garí§on lui avait expliqué ‘vaguement’ qu’il avait fait du mal aux petits enfants et qu’il avait été arríªté

    quelques jours plus tard , je croise la maman et son fils qui me dit mon instituteur est un pédophile . La maman horrifié me dit : il a dit í  ses copains que son instituteur était un pédophile et maintenant les enfants disent í  tous que le maitre est un pédophile .

    nous discutons donc avec l’enfant qui nous dit : “oui il est pédophile car il n’est pas toujours gentil avec moi et il me donne des mauvaises notes , alors je dis qu’il est un pédophile comme í§a il ira en prison et moi je ne serai plus triste”

    et nous de lui expliquer vraiment ce que veut dire le mot “pédophile” et les conséquences de “ses mots ” : et lui de comprendre le pouvoir des mots et depuis de faire attention í  chaque mot qu’il emploie




  3. THELMA says:

    Thank you all. Dear Vitia Hoffmann, you are right. ‘The truth has always two sides’. Those ‘evil’ gossipers always ‘mix’ truth things with many lies and make their stories so ..truthful!!
    A joke, we say about lawyers [you know I am a lawyer’s wife for almost forty years] is, that by … telling so many lies at the end ‘they’ believe them and forget the ..truth!

  4. Lewis says:

    I don’t agree with the judge that the woman should be jailed. What is done wrong can be healed, and at first I thought the judge told the woman to tear up the paper of all the bad things the woman said to the young man as a way of letting go of the bad things. But…! The judge is mean >:S

  5. neurona says:

    Eso sí­, que quede claro, tú con este cuento me has enseñado el poder que pueden tener a veces las palabras. Así­ que gracias. Gracias. He tenido que leer esto para darme cuenta de que todo es una cadena. A veces pensaba que si decí­as una cosa mala de alguien y a esa persona le dabas igual no podí­as hacerle daño porque tus palabras no eran consideradas por él. Me equivocaba. Todo es una cadena hasta los pensamientos.

    Gracias Paulo. De verdad. Tendré cuidado a partir de ahora con mis palabras y mis pensamientos.

  6. neurona says:

    Creo que no se le puede considerar culpable a un ignorante que no es consciente de su error. (Es como castigar a un deficiente mental por tirar un vaso al suelo) En este cuento el magistral da una lección a la mujer, y si lo hace es porque considera que la mujer no comprende la gravedad de lo que ha hecho. De haber sido lo contrario, no le habrí­a explicado su error. En el momento en el que le explica su falta él vota por su ignorancia, es decir, él la considera ignorante. Y un ignorante que no conoce, que no sabe del bien y del mal, nunca es culpable. Es inocente, tal vez no ante el mundo, pero si ante él mismo.

    El orden está invertido:

    Primera se enseña, después se advierte, y si la advertencia no ha servido para nada se castiga.
    No se puede castigar y luego enseñar.

    PD: El magistral no es sabio. El magistral es un falso sabio, es un farsante a mi modo de verlo. Los sabios no son los que se aprenden grandes frases de memoria y luego las dicen, son los que son consecuentes con las situaciones y saben obrar.

    He aprendido de este cuento: de la frase que se sabe de memoria el magistrado. De él no, por supuesto. Gracias por escribirlo Paulo.

    Querí­a explicar mi opinión. No sé si estoy totalmente equiovocada o loca porque todos piensan al revés en sus comentarios, o casi todos.

    Resumiento, dejo aquí­ algo de mi cosecha:

    – Se enseña al que no sabe.
    – Al que ya sabe no se le enseña, se le pregunta.

    Por tanto, si el magistral le enseña a la mujer, ¿por qué le manda a la cárcel?

    Llamemos a cuarto milenio, tal vez ellos lo sepan. Es un misterio.

    Malba Tahan no estaba inspirado, la lección del magistral es brillante, pero el magistral no tiene corazón. Sabe hablar y explicarse, pero ha actuado de forma incorrecta.

    Paulo, no me ha gustado este cuento. Sólo la frase. Prefiero tus cuentos.

  7. Marie says:

    My mother always told me that we need to be mindful of what we say. It is like a crumpled piece if paper. Try as you might to straighten the crumpled paper, the creases will still be there.

  8. Pablo says:

    … look before you leap … think about possible harms you could cause before speaking up…

    think about stength of words…

    thanks for publishing


  9. The truth has always two sides. And not right word spreadet around can destroit many peoples heart and lifes.

    Pitty that many times happened like this “rumors” about a good things. They are shared from completely worng viepoint.

  10. Beautiful :)
    Excellent parable, reminds me of a saying that goes like this
    “If you have nothing good to say about someone, don’t say anything at all..” quoted from my dear father.
    Thank you for such an enlightening post.
    I think in teh end justice was indeed served.

  11. sarvesh s. hada says:

    woman can not undo that harm of the boy.but she can write good things in another paper and then after tearing up that and throw away.after coming from the jail she must spread talks of good things of that person…

  12. luce says:

    Dear Paulo,

    This story touched me deeply as I live with person who is
    using this weapon against myself whenever he is frustrated, spreading foul, nasty, untrue words about me.
    In my hometown people say that it is not important what is said but who said it, but I know it is not true and I know how much it hurts and how damaging it is even for my selfesteem not to speak about oppinion of comunity.

    Dear Jessica and Alexandra,
    It is not always woman who speak bad, sometimes I think it is just opposite, that men have bigger share in it nowdays when women are gaining importance and power.

    And dear Thelma,
    yes you are right, your words are just mine too, only I have my snake living with me !
    Your words, just like Paulo’s are giving me strength and faith and are real help.

    Thank you both !


  13. […] Coelho erzählt gerade eine schöne Geschichte auf seinem Blog: Eine Frau erzählte so oft, dass ihr Nachbar ein Dieb sei, dass der junge Mann […]

  14. nato says:

    Wise magistrate! I think his name was Midas, from Midas, the King! :P

  15. Alexandra says:

    Very good judge.Hope all would be like him.Unfortunately I have lot of experience in such events,my”dear”neighbour is doing same from years.Is a woman,with money ,but so frustrated that i think she has an obssession for me.Is always peeping from the window to see when I am back home,with whom.Is really annoying.Even to my family she tried to speak bad,my father had a fight with her.Was bad,cause she also poisoned my dog,a really cute faithful animal.I wish to change place,but my house is very nice,would be such a pitty,but is very difficult living in tenssion.

  16. THELMA says:

    Thank you Paulo Coelho.
    This is the story behind the …LAW OF LABEL.
    The power of words used in a destructive way.
    It is the weapon, cowards and mean people use to undermine their … neighbours, their.. so called friends or opponents. It is the ‘underground’, secret war of the insecure, evil state of mind, that makes people forget all dignity, decency and beauty. This ‘war’ is that makes the ‘winner’ feeling .. alone: Jealousy, mediocrity, inferiority complex and evil. The .. snakes!
    How can we protect ourselves?? By trying to .. make those creatures, governed by Evil understand with a … good fight and with Prayer. The Warrior of Light in his wisdom ‘knows’ that sooner or later the evil sent to him will be returned by destiny, Karma, to the wrong-doer. No thoughts or words sent to the Cosmos remain un-answered.