Thursday, November 1, 2012
“Before you speak, think – is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind? Will it hurt anyone? Will it improve on the silence?”
The words above are from the somewhat controversial Indian Guru, Sai Baba. You can read about him here. He was controversial due to reasons other than this quote and I think the quote stands alone as a pristine piece of wisdom as it relates to how we speak…how we use words.
Words are powerful.
Though most of us may not be witches or wizards (at least in the Harry Potter sense of those words – bows of respect to friends who really are Wiccan or Pagan), our words have the ability to evoke emotion, to invoke harm, to heal, to break down, to build up, to reject or embrace the recipient. Even the recipient we tend to forget about…us.
So why is it that we use our words so carelessly? Why is it so easy to use our words as ammunition towards another to suit our own interest and gain? It does seem like we see this activity more in this current election year. I feel like I’ve seen it more on Facebook and Twitter. “Friends” aggressively commenting on other “Friends” walls and instigating confrontation with their Tweets – what a silly word, really, that you’d think would diffuse the situation immediately. Why does this feel okay in the moment we are doing this? Would we so readily engage a stranger, much less, our “Friends” in such a careless way if we were sitting across from them face to face, or even chatting with them on the phone? Perhaps, but I think it would happen less often, more sparingly.
How do we get ourselves to a place of good communication of, as we say it in Buddhism – Right Speech? Good communication, Right Speech – these are about connection, which is empathy and within empathy is understanding. These manifest compassion, in our thought, in our actions, in our words. I believe the groundwork for all of this is gratitude which is in a constant dance with humility.
Do we see our life as a gift?
Our life, of course, is a gift. We do not exist apart from the conditions that brought us into being. Conditions, that though we are inextricably connected with, are also far beyond our imagining. We would not be here in this moment, in this place, if it weren’t for a Universe that could manifest a planet such as Earth that so specifically can support a life form such as ours. You would not be here if your parents, or their parents, or any of the parents before them had not had life. Without the Sun where would we be? If not for the farmer, what would you eat? Can we breathe without oxygen? Can I heal without the aid of a healthy immune system, or doctor, or medicines? All of us are one breath away from illness, from death. The person we are angry with (perhaps reasonably so) and are lashing out at with our words – that person will lose a loved one to death, they will experience illness, their heart will be wounded, and they like you or me will at times feel lost.
Do you see my point?
“We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyaly.” ~ G.K. Chesterton
We are deeply connected to all other things through interdependent relationship that we seldom take time to be aware of, but nonetheless is there. Our life, our being here is a gift.
So back to my question – do we see our life as a gift? Because if we are able to do this, to see our existence with humility and gratitude, then rather than having to live by a set of rules – we are getting to the root, the foundation, the groundwork of being kind and gracious with the way we treat people, the way we speak to people, the way we choose to use all of these powerful words that we have available to us.
But of course this is a practice. We have, over time, developed patterns in our brains – kneejerk reactions to what we see as an attack, as offensive. It takes work to undo these patterns, to unthread these connections. If we have gratitude though, and see our lives as gift rather than some entitled state, then I believe we are planting the seeds that will grow and give us the ground of support to be aware and be kind with the power in our words.
In the meantime, when we speak, we should ask ourself – Is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind?