Do you believe that the difference be-tween a compliment and a curse is like the difference between Heaven and Hell?
Language might well be described as the world's most lethal weapon. Peng Su-hua, secretary-general of the Speech Communication Association of the ROC, advises people not to underestimate its power. "One turn of phrase can make people laugh," goes the Chinese saying, "and another can make them stamp their feet in anger." Compliments foster confidence and joy; words aimed to hurt can cause people to jump up and down-or even jump off a building. Peng is living proof of the truth behind the expression.
Once, because her mother criticized her, she attempted suicide. And once, because her husband complimented her for being a filial and hard-working daughter, she bid adieu to her days of melancholy and bitterness, and turned her life around to become an optimistic go-getter. Having a deep understanding of the extraordinary power of words, she joined the Speech Communication Association of the ROC in 1989 and has since thrown herself into research and development of the verbal arts. In particular, she has had success in persuading others to take care and speak with great propriety.
The aim of the Speech Communication Association of the ROC is to raise the expressive power of the spoken word and to conduct research into the verbal arts so as to foster social harmony and strengthen international cultural exchange. It was established in February 1988 by professors passionately committed to promoting the spoken arts: Yu Yu-chao, Swun Chen, Tzu Song-lin, Chang Shao-tzao, and Tzeng Tzao-hsu. Those who have participated in its research projects and demonstrations in the years since number more than 10,000. Peng Su-hua has participated in many of their various activities, spending great effort and much money, and quietly providing service over the course of 14 years. You could describe her as a tiller of the soil in the garden of verbal arts.
Now secretary-general of the organization, Peng was a child of a broken home. After Peng's father abandoned his wife and children when he had an affair, Peng's mother was forced to open a cafeteria to provide for her four daughters. Peng Su-hua was the eldest, and so when she was eight she had to start helping out in the restaurant, cleaning vegetables and washing dishes. Her life came to revolve around carrying out those duties. Recalling those days, she can't help but lament: "I didn't have a childhood. Every day, I opened my eyes and went to work to help make ends meet. I finished only the mandatory nine years of school. I was the only student in my junior high school class not to take the entrance exam for high school."
Her mother relied heavily upon her. Apart from working in the restaurant, Su-hua had to care for her three younger siblings. Once when she was sick and lying in bed, her mother accused her of faking and said, "You have no right to be sick." Su-hua attempted suicide by overdosing on pills. Having her stomach pumped in the hospital showed her that the quest for death was painful too. Nevertheless, she doesn't hate her mother. To the contrary, she sympathizes with what she went through. Growing up hard gave Peng steely determination. When she faces obstacles in the course of her work to promote the verbal arts and communication, she constantly spurs herself on by saying: "No matter how hard it is, it's not as bad as childhood." When she recollects the suffering that she once endured, she lacks the heart to attack others, and only grows more determined to bring love into society. Whenever she has time, she and her husband bring members of the association to homes for seniors, disabled groups, orphanages and the like to put on demonstrations of verbal dexterity. Sometimes she even cuts the residents' hair or helps them take baths. She feels that helping others invigorates her own life. For her work she won a national award for the most outstanding worker for a social group in 1999.
Peng's husband Chen Hsing-tzai is the person she credits with changing her life the most. Twenty years ago, having just graduated from college, Chen was working in manufacturing and would come to Peng's cafeteria to eat. That's how they met. Chen was moved by Peng's dutifulness as a daughter, and he became set on spending his life caring for that good girl. Hence, when Peng's mother made it a condition of marriage that Peng Su-hua would still have to help out in the cafeteria, Chen readily consented.
In 1981 the young couple happily married, finding a home near Peng's mother. In 1982, Peng enrolled in the night school at Yali High School, and continued in this way working in the day and studying at night until she had obtained degrees in international trade from National Open University and Eternal-Life Christ College. Then in 1998 she went to get her MBA at Connecticut University of Bridgeport, and graduated there in 2000. Now, in addition to working, she is studying for a doctorate in educational psychology and social psychology at Beijing University.
Busy with her work and studies, she has little time to spend with her husband, but the two have a clear understanding of how to make the most of their time together, which they spend complimenting each other and cracking jokes. "Jokes are the buffer in our relationship," says Peng Su-hua, who laments that these days many husbands and wives have only three things to say to each other: "I'm going to work," "I'm home," and "I'm going to bed." She says: "This lack of communication is painful. To improve relations between husbands and wives, it's important to raise the level of dialogue."
It's not just family members that should pay attention to the art of talking: it's even more important to exercise care when talking to strangers. Peng gives the example that when she first entered the ranks of the association's volunteers, the association members organized an anniversary celebration and she was assigned reception duty. When she asked one professor for his name, to her astonishment he rudely responded, "I am [so-and-so]. How could you possibly not know who I am?" She felt wronged and broke into tears. Yu Yu-chao, who was then the association's executive director, immediately pulled out a handkerchief and comforted her. "You needn't be sad," he said. "You're an outstanding worker, and have done a good job. No one else would have done any better." Upon hearing these words, she immediately went from crying to laughing, dried the tears from her eyes, and went back to work. Obtaining a compliment from the executive director was a great honor for a member like her. It was proof positive that the difference between a compliment and criticism is indeed like the difference between Heaven and Hell.
For years now she and association members such as Yu Yu-chao have been putting on activities like "Speaking Nice and Doing Good." Through various demonstration activities, they call for people in their daily lives to talk about things more and enhance the quality of their communication so as to improve interpersonal relations and social harmony, and to create more "verbal good fortune."
Peng Su-hua hopes that in the not-too-distant future, these activities will reach every corner of society, bringing great delight, satisfaction and joy.
"One turn of phrase can make people laugh," runs the Chinese saying, "and another can make them stamp their feet in anger." Speaking is more than putting pretty words on the tongue; one must be sincere and gentle inside. Here is Peng Su-hua conducting a class for members of the Speech Communication Association. (courtesy of Peng Su-hua)