How do I speak and listen with compassion and wisdom individually and globally?
As a child I was told by my parents in order to protect myself from harm to say to other children “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me.”
I said it and perhaps this prevented further mocking by other nasty children but the damage was already done. The words they said stung, they hurt, there was harm; I felt afraid and embarrassed.
Words and speech have a power which does harm and leads to self- doubt, fear, self- judgment even if the words are not true!
In growing up the ways of communicating in my home did not help either, they were often combative, critical, blaming and exaggerated. There was often a drama of argumentative words between my parents like a soap opera, full of tension.
I knew early on in life that something was wrong, missing, and family life ought not be a filled with blame game. I became drawn to people whose speech and actions demonstrated acceptance, caring, friendliness and love.
And so I learned very early the impact that speech could have on life- enormous consequences for good or harm!
How many of us grew up with this speech and communication that was similar to mine or perhaps just the opposite – no emotions were ever shown or expressed, no unpleasantness at the table, the big denial, life in whisper mode? How has this shaped and formed us and continues to? We need to realize that our speech touches every aspect of our lives- all our interpersonal relationships.
And the Buddha knew this well. He realized the power of words to bring happiness or suffering.
And he offered incredible guidelines to help us all navigate this realm and make sense of it: to be aware of how, why, where and when we are speaking.
The impact of speech is magnified today in a world where rapid and instantaneous speech is broadcast over airwaves, sound waves, electronically. Where we hear and see major world conflicts, acts of terrorism, and political scandals with false accusations, ethnic cleansing and more cruel actions in our face.
We turn on talk radio and hear talk show hosts pandering to anger and fear in others; they use incendiary speech and gossip saying things that are both malicious and untrue. We flick on the TV and find so many programs centered on some form of violence from torture to killing. We go to a movie and in larger than life screens with deafening sound tracks find our senses inundated with intense blood and gore and raging destruction of property.
This is a large part of the world we live in. No wonder the Buddha advised his followers 2,600 years ago to take care with who you associate with and to look to the sangha for like-minded people who will support you in living with harmlessness, loving friendliness, compassion, generosity, safety, ease and happiness. This begins on the personal level and extends to the universal.
Communication can be one of the most complex and challenging activities we undertake and it touches every aspect of our lives: socially, family and friends, co-workers and neighbors, emails, acquaintances and others we meet just walking down the street.
The Buddha advised us to contemplate 4 factors surrounding speech so we could live with compassion and wisdom.
1. Speak the truth. Refrain from false speech. This includes stretching the truth like lies of omission, exaggeration, denial. The truth builds trust and connects us, so we feel safe. The truth or honest speech is a foundation that connects us. We can never be at peace and ease within ourselves if we are carrying the baggage of lies within. Think of Wiki-Leaks& Snowden. What damage do we do to another when we bear “false witness” against them? How does it affect us when we speak falsely?
2. Speak kindly, gently, helpfully. Refrain from harsh, belittling, judgmental speech, especially which is born out of anger. The Buddha said “A person known for gentle and beautiful speech will be quickly trusted and accepted”. Love and patience antidotes harsh speech. Soothing to the ear, not pushy or demanding.” Remembering just as I want to be happy so do all beings”.
3. Cultivate Supportive, uplifting, heartfelt, encouraging speech. Refrain from malicious, slanderous, abusive speech. The Buddha said this is the speech that destroys friendship between 2 people”. Tabloids, talk radio. Knocks one down to raise another up. Aversion against a person or a group. This creates bad karma because intentional harm involved. Cultivate a mind of loving friendliness “Wins the trust and affection of others”.
4. Cultivate speech that is useful, uplifting, balanced and with good timing. Delivered to another at a time they can stop to hear and in a place conducive to listening. Refrain from idle chatter and gossip. Joseph Goldstein conducted an experiment he said” For one week I will only speak about another if that person is present” the result was that 90% of his speech dropped away. This is often what we do when with another over analyze about another person who is not there.
Copyright Lhasha Tizer 2015