Our words are filled with creative energy. We often fling them around as if they were meaningless—not realizing words shape and form the world we live in.
We act as if talk is cheap. It is only “cheap” if not followed by right action, which is the forth concept of the Buddha’s Noble Eight Fold path. We also must walk our talk.
Right speech is the third activity of the Eight Fold Path.
Right speech, or skillful speech, that relieves suffering must include these four criteria:
1) Are our words kind?
2) Are they true?
3) Are they necessary?
4) Are they timely?
We have discussed in the previous blog how our words can be kind—or not. Now we will inquire into the second criteria: Are our words true?
Let us consider our present thoughts, the ones that are going on in our heads right now. We might think they are true, but are they? Is what we are saying factual? Can we prove them? Are we judging ourselves or others? Are we repeating rumors? Are we repeating gossip? Are our words malicious?
What is the intention of the conversation that is going on within our own mind? Is it based on real truth? Or just old reactive conditioning?
Let’s imagine what our world would look like if we spoke only that which we knew to be true, rather than thinking our opinion is the truth.
For instance we might say, “This is how I see the situation…….” And then state our opinion. This allows space for other opinions, and causes others to be less defensive.
Thus our conversations can bring us closer together rather than distancing us. We can discuss the issues together instead of arguing our points.
Since none of us knows the real Truth with a capital T we can only know what each situation means to us—how we see it.
We give events and situations the meaning it has for us. It is our choice. This gives us tremendous power. We give everything the meaning it has for us. This becomes our truth, our view of life.
The problem we face is that our meanings are usually based on our experiences in the past. Past experiences only live in our memory. All is possible in the present moment, for it includes the unknown—and this is filled with all possibilities. It only takes our imagination to become active, seeking the good, the true and the beautiful, rather than accepting the past as the only reality in the present moment.
Are we speaking for others? Are we saying “they.” Who are they? And how do we really know what each person in this imaginary group is thinking?
In truth we can’t speak for others. We can only speak with authority for ourselves. If we are asked to speak for another, this must clearly be defined in advance. We might say, “Jean (whomever) has asked me to say this for her. We must get permission to speak for anyone else.
Can we see the arrogance in the thought that we are the one that understands what is going on? Who made us God? No one can see the whole of any situation. We can only see from where we stand, and that is a very narrow spot. Each of us sees only a tiny slice.
Do our words embellish or exaggerate? Do they confuse the issue by leaving out certain facts?
Do our words present a true picture of the situation as we see it? Have we omitted somethings to make our case stronger? These are the little (or big) sins of omission. Have we overlooked the parts that we want to deny? Where are our blind spots?
Do we speak truth to power, and not just talk behind someone’s back? We might consider not speaking about another unless he/she is in the room.
I think we would talk less which allows more silence—spaciousness—in which we could consider all possibilities.
I am growing in this practice of right speech. I still have a long way to go. My intention is to use these four guidelines in my interactions with others. And even more importantly, to use them as I listen to the voices that speak in my head.
My desire is to do no harm, or as little as possible, given that there are always unintended consequences.
I shall continue my journey attending to my words and asking if they pass muster.