Words are powerful. Our words affect everyone around us. They mold and shape the way we feel about ourselves, and our view of life.
Our words can inspire or they can diminish. Our words can damage or nurture well-being.
Words can build walls to shut others out or create bridges that connect.
Our words can enrich or devastate.
Our conversations (both with others and ourselves) make a huge difference in the emotional and mental “climate” in which we all live.
As John Donne has written “No man is an island.”
We are all vibrantly interconnected, flowing together in the large ocean of life. Therefore how we engage with one another draws us into a more closely knit harmonious life—or separates—causing wars, scarcity and suffering of all kinds.
The art of skillful speech is imperative to learn if we desire a world that works together for the good of everyone. We will either “Love or Perish” as Dr. Rollo May has written. It is our choice.
Right speech is the third attribute of the Buddha’s Noble Eight Fold path, immediately following right view and right intention.
Right (or skillful) speech will relieve suffering when these four criteria are satisfied in each word we speak:
1) Are our words kind?
2) Are they true?
3) Are they necessary?
4) Are they timely?
Let’s examine the first of these characteristics of skillful speech— while remembering our inner conversation is included—that dialogue that is always taking place in our mind—as well as the words we speak to others.
Are my words kind?
Do my words come from a caring heart? Or am I putting myself or another down? Am I judging? Am I trying to manipulate or convince? And if so, why? What is my motive?
What is my intention behind these words?
I find it helpful to begin each day with the intention to do no harm. I truly desire to be a part of the upward movement of all life. As a part of this evolutionary process, I wish to help rather than hinder.
My thoughts and words lead me either in a helpful direction or divert me off my path.
My words come from my thoughts. Thus I must inquire into my attitudes and beliefs out of which spring my thoughts and actions.
Where are my thoughts and words coming from? My intention is to speak with a friendly, caring heart—a warm heart. But am I feeling connected—or have I separated myself from others?
If so, why? What are my beliefs? Are they true?
Are my words as gentle as possible? Or are they harsh?
Only by inquiring into these kinds of questions will we know whether our words are harmful —or truly helpful.
We also need to notice our body language and gestures. More is communicated by a grimace, sly smile, sneer, rolling of the eyes than our words will ever convey.
Do our words demean or belittle? If so, ask ourselves why making another person small makes us feel bigger. We will discover much about ourselves and how comfortable we are in our own skin by paying attention to how we think about and treat others.
Perhaps the person most needing loving words and thoughts is ourselves. How long will we continue judging ourselves harshly? Do we think it is helping? If so, we might ask how much it has helped thus far.
I remember an old saying that went like this:
“They drew a circle and shut me out, but love and I had the wit to win. We drew a circle that included them in.”
Just imagine for a moment what our world would be like if our words were thoughtfully examined and not spoken until they could comply with each of the four basic tenants of skillful speech listed above.
“When possible, be kind. And it is always possible.”