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“A no-nonsense approach to building your business through relationships.”

~ Jane Applegate, syndicated Los Angeles Times columnist

“Feathers In the Wind”

February 27th, 2009 by Bob Burg

There is a 19th century folktale about a young fellow who went about town slandering the town’s wise man. One day, he went to the wise man’s home and asked for forgiveness. The wise man, realizing that this man had not internalized the gravity of his transgressions, told him that he would forgive him on one condition: that he go home, take a feather pillow from his house, cut it up, and scatter the feathers to the wind. After he had done so, he should then return to the wise man’s house.

Though puzzled by this strange request, the young man was happy to be let off with so easy a penance. He quickly cut up the pillow, scattered the feathers, and returned to the house.

“Am I now forgiven?” he asked.

“Just one more thing,” the wise man said. “Go now and gather up all the feathers.”

“But that’s impossible. The wind has already scattered them.”

“Precisely,” he answered. “And though you may truly wish to correct the evil you have done, it is as impossible to repair the damage done by your words as it is to recover the feathers. Your words are out there in the marketplace, spreading hate, even as we speak.”

How interesting it is that we, as human beings, so quick to believe the bad that others say about someone; so accepting of the “news” contained in print and television tabloids, and so ready to assume the worst regarding another’s actions, actually allow ourselves to believe that the evil “we” spread about someone won’t really matter. Incredible that we can’t seem to immediately and resolutely accept the fact that the gossip we speak can — and often does — significant damage to that person.

My friend, Paul Myers, says, “Gossip is like a fired bullet. Once you hear the sound, you can’t take it back.” That is what the man in the above story found out in a very disappointing, shameful moment of self-discovery. And it isn’t just what we say about someone to others, but what we say to that person directly as well.

We’ve all been told that “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never harm me.” We also know that is totally untrue. While a body will typically recover from a physical injury, the harm caused by direct insults can sometimes last a lifetime, and tear the self-esteem right out of a person.

On the other hand, kind, encouraging words can build a person’s self-esteem, help him or her to grow and give them the impetus they need to do great, significant things with their lives. The choice regarding how we speak about or to someone is ours. It’s called “free will.”

24 Responses to ““Feathers In the Wind””
  1. Wow Bob, what a wonderful way to put.
    I believe It also includes what we say to ourselves about other people.
    It’s sometime easy to believe tthat because we are only thinking it
    and not saying it to any one, no harm is done, but is that really the case?
    How much are we affected by the negative thoughts we bear on other people?
    And how much are we inconsciously influencing others with the negative
    dialogue we are having with ourselves?
    It’s more than changing our thoughts; it’s making sure we have the right values
    and principles from the get go, so that as no one in their right mind (I hope)
    wouldn’t think about eating mud, it wouldn’t even come to our minds to have any kind
    of negative thoughts on people. Let us all learn from this story and cultivate more
    compassion, patience and understanding for all our fellow beings.
    Thank you Bob for sharing.

  2. Gail Doby said at 5:50 pm on

    Big hugs again, my friend. You always say it so well.

    With today’s challenges, it is easy for people to lose their patience and say things that are hurtful. I hope people take this to heart and try to find the good in others and practice patience, humility and forgiveness.

    You are an inspiration to me and many other people.

    All my best,


  3. Bob Burg said at 6:23 pm on

    Thank you, Gail. And, YOU always say the kindest things. You’re a living example of that which we can strive to become.

    Hugs back,


  4. bob Burg said at 12:02 am on

    Sandrine, what great thoughts. Thank you for sharing with us. You’re another one of these people who really lives what you wrote. Thank you!

  5. David Faulkner said at 2:51 am on


    Wonderful analogy – not to be forgotten!!!


  6. bob Burg said at 8:49 pm on

    Thank you, David. I only wish I’d thought of it. 🙂

  7. Pamela said at 10:24 am on

    Hi Bob,

    Being one who has been hurt by gossip (like so many have been), I try to disarm it whenever it comes my way. Your blog reminds me that disarming gossip only gathers one of the feathers that have already been scattered everywhere.

    There’s so many kind things that a person can say to someone…about someone. I always admire a person who brings me good news about another. Especially when they do it over and over and over. Wonderful!

    I’ve tried to not hurt the gossiper and the “gossipee” by saying something nice and if I can’t think of something nice, I can always say, “When I get perfect, I might have something to say about that…”

    People don’t usually bring me gossip anymore and I miss out on a lot of stuff that way! 🙂

    And being human, I’ve caught myself saying something negative about someone, especially when I thought it might protect someone else.

    I’ve got a long ways to go before I’m perfect…:-)

    Thank you, Bob, for the opportunity to comment…

  8. Bob Burg said at 11:06 am on

    Hi Pamela,

    I’d say practically all of us have a long way to go before we are perfect in this area but, knowing you as I do . . . you come REAL close. 🙂 As you’ll recall, I featured a story about you in an ezine article a long time ago where you were able to work with some people who’d been gossiped about and you really turned things around in a positive way. By the way (regarding your third to last paragraph), if you need to say something less than positive about someone in order to protect someone else, that is not considered gossip because it is necessary. There are certain ways to say it so it does the least damage, and we’ll discuss that in a future post. Thank you, my friend!


  9. maria said at 3:18 pm on

    Hi Bob,

    love the blogs and kicking myself for taking so long to read them! (especially given that I recently lost my copy of endless referrals- soooo disappointed)

    D.R. Miguel in his book The Four Agreements sums up perfectly the power and damage done by our word. One of the agreements is “be impeccable with your word” He says that we should speak with integrity and to avoid using the word to gossip about others and more importantly -avoid using the word against ourselves. When looked at from a point of view of universal laws the misuse of the word will simply come back to you but worse using the word against oneself will attract all that you don’t desire.

    By the way – great response about “saying something once I become perfect”. Thank you everyone and thank you Bob.


  10. Bob Burg said at 6:27 am on

    Hi Maria, Thank YOU for your very kind words. And, yes, “The Four Agreements” is one of my favorite books.

  11. Marcia said at 3:08 am on

    Such wisdom! I came looking for this story ‘Feathers in the wind’ hoping to satisfy driving home my point with gossippers and gossipees (thought I was the only one who thought of the word gossippee). However the comments are worthy of note and so powerful. Not just our words…but our thoughts can be damaging! This is worthy of note because the negative thoughts could so easily come from the person who was hurt. Now I must do some deep and honest soul searching to ensure that my thoughts are not being negatively and still actively being affected. I came for a story, but I got a lesson! God bless you.

  12. bob burg said at 6:48 am on

    Thank you, Marcia, for your very kind comments and excellent insights. I think most of us (I know I do) need to constantly be aware of both our thoughts and our words.


  13. Gabriella said at 12:24 am on

    did you see that? I just tipped my hat to you

  14. Bob Burg said at 4:40 pm on

    And I tipped my hat back to you. 🙂

  15. Steve Boyett said at 11:34 am on

    Hey everyone, have you heard the latest about Bob Burg… he is a dynamic speaker who cares about the people he spends time with!!

    I am all for gossip – we should do it all the time – positive gossip that is. We should constantly be building people up to others. That is how I have gotten to know about Bob and his abilities. A childhood friend (who actually used to date my wife – shhh, don’t tell anyone – haha again) Thom Scott introduced me to Bob.

    I suggest we continue to spread the “gossip” to all we know.

    Great post again Bob!

    Steve Boyett

  16. […] Comments Steve Boyett on Breaking The Gossip Habit, Part TwoSteve Boyett on “Feathers In the Wind”Jennifer Wideman on Breaking The Gossip Habit, Part OneTeri on Breaking The Gossip Habit, Part […]

  17. Million abstauben said at 10:14 am on

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  18. […] we’ve previously discussed, Gossip may be defined as “any type of harmful or hurtful communication that is not absolutely […]

  19. Angel said at 11:54 am on

    This analogy rocks!

  20. Dana said at 4:44 pm on

    I’m moving to get away from it all ( The Gossip ) but I have to stay for now, as my mother has Alzheimer’s Disease, and I have to be here for her. At this point, I can only put it in God’s hands and just say hell with all the others that follow and believe in the words. I figure this gossip has prevented me from making new friends, but who needs such friends that judge by what others say than to judge for themselves.

  21. Dana said at 4:47 pm on

    Who needs people that believe in what others say without judging for themselves ?

  22. Amy Wells said at 12:39 pm on

    I remember this story from your book about Gossip: Ten Pathways to Eliminate It from Your Life and Transform Your Soul.

    Last night in church a lady turned to me and said, “so and so ________. _______ told me, but don’t tell anybody I told you.” I responed, “If you don’t want anybody to know you said it, why did you say it at all?” Again she told me not to tell anybody she told me. So I repeated my response….and added, “I dont gossip.”

    I know what those feathers feel like and am shocked to see how many people believe the negative words spoken about others.

    Thanks for the story.

  23. Steve Lowther said at 6:27 pm on

    But the story is unfinished!

    When the young man saw the task was beyond him, he fell at the feet of the old wise man and begged for forgiveness.

    The old man gently put his hand on the top of the young man’s head. “There is nothing to forgive” he said. “For in injuring me you have injured yourself. Let us both leave the sadness behind and seek our healing, for now you understand it is you who has the greater wound.”

  24. Patty Jacobson said at 12:06 pm on

    I’m also working on the discipline of controlling my thoughts. Our actions – good or bad – start with our thoughts

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