The Hidden Language of the World

For a significant period of my teenage years, I abandoned my childhood habit of reading books. Despite rediscovering my love for reaching again in my 20s, I only managed a single book in the interim. That book was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

Despite the book itself receiving mixed reviews from critics for various reasons, I thoroughly enjoyed it, both from a story perspective and the simple message it communicated.

The most lasting idea from the book that has stayed with me since was the idea of a hidden language in the world, one that all were able to speak and that all were able to understand.

Coelho writes:

“…there was a language in the world that everyone understood, a language the boy had used throughout the time that he was trying to improve things at the shop. It was the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a search for something believed in and desired.” [1]

This idea of a language we all share – which Coelho calls the ‘Language of the World’ – regardless of ethnicity or country of origin fascinated me. I found the idea seeping out of the pages of the book and entering my mind, provoking it to answer. “Was it true? Does such a shared language exist?”

In the years since, I saw and experienced situations first-hand where two people – despite not sharing the same language or background – were able to communicate fluently with each other in their chance interactions. And this is where I departed from Coelho’s description of this language and discovered what it truly meant.

I recall being on a busy train after work one evening when a gentleman who managed to secure a seat (a valued prize during the post-work commute) noticed the entrance of a family of tourists onto the carriage. This family also included an elderly Grandmother who very clearly would be unable to manage standing during the tumultuous journey.

The general reluctance of those seating to give up their seat was evident. Although it being the right thing to do, it seemed as though the comfort of many the younger, exhausted workers on the train was stronger than their desire to give up their seat. Something had to give however, and eventually a young man took responsibility for the morally correct communal obligation and gave his seat up, picking up his bag as he stood while signalling to the Grandmother to sit in his now vacant position.

With a beaming, appreciative smile, she gently took the seat.

To the average commuter, this was nothing more than a kind act of common courtesy expected of the young towards the old. There is no doubt the many commuters still seating felt a sense of relief at this obligation being fulfilled by someone else.

And yet, as everyone else continued upon their journey, a few moments later I noted a further interaction between the unlikely pair that opened my eyes to another world.

The seated Grandmother grabbed the attention of the gentleman who had given up his seat for her and stood nearby, then gently tapped her palms onto her lap, indicating that he rest his heavy bag on her lap instead of carrying it. After all, he had given up his comfort for her, it seemed like she had wanted to return the favour.

The gentleman immediately understood her gesturing and what it meant. His face lit up with a shy smile as he gently declined out of respect. At this further display of noble conduct, the rest of the family travelling with the elderly lady also started smiling at him and with their eyes full of sincerity and appreciation, he acknowledged their thoughtfulness and shyly bowed his head as he continued to smile.

The elderly Grandmother and the gentleman who gave up his seat were visibly from different cultures, different countries, shared no common verbal language and their ages were separated by many years. And yet their communication with each other was as fluent and easily understood as though they had known each other their entire lives.

Moreso, as an observer, I too understood everything I saw despite no words being exchanged.

This split second interaction fell under the radar of almost everyone else in the carriage, but at that moment I remembered Coelho’s words once more:

“…there was a language in the world that everyone understood, a language the boy had used throughout the time that he was trying to improve things at the shop. It was the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a search for something believed in and desired.”

Though the definition of the nature of the language differed from what Coelho described, I realised the truth in his assertion that a hidden, shared language existed amongst mankind.

I had realised that this universal language was none other than kindness.

The more I thought about it, the more evident it seemed. Everyone understood kindness. Everyone appreciated respect and generosity, it was a feeling that transcended all barriers. It was the essence of positive, meaningful human interaction.

As I recalled this incident many years later, I recalled some of the additional writings by Paulo Coelho in the very same book:

“…people become fascinated with pictures and words, and wind up forgetting the Language of the World.” [2]

It is easy to delegate the realm of communication to pictures, videos and words. Especially in our times where our days are filled to the brim with the absorption of digital content.

But it is important to remember that another language exists. A language that everyone is fluent in by virtue of their sentience. It is a language that is not just exclusive to humans either. Animals understand and appreciate kindness too.

Some marvel at those who have worked hard to become fluent in many of the major languages of the world, but the one that impresses me the most is the one who has mastered the unspoken, shared language of kindness.

As Mark Twain once wrote [3]:

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”

Be fluent.


[1] – The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
[2] – ibid.
[3] – Although popularly attributed to Mark Twain, I was unable to find any specific work of his that this was written in

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