Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Daily Dharma: Right Speech (and Relationhips)


Today's Daily Dharma from Tricycle:
Holding It All In

I think a lot about the fact that the Buddha made a separate category for Right Speech. He could have been more efficient and included it in Right Action, since speaking is a form of action. For a while I thought it was separate because we speak so much. But then I changed my mind--some people don't speak a lot. Now, I think it's a separate category because speech is so potent. During the 1960s, when the social ethos was "letting it all hang out," I had recurrent fantasies about writing a book called Holding It All In. I think I was alarmed that people had overlooked how vulnerable each of us is. In recent years, I've revised my book title to Holding It All In Until We've Figured Out How to Say It in a Useful Way. I believe we are obliged to tell the truth. Telling the truth is a way we take care of people. The Buddha taught complete honesty, with the extra instruction that everything a person says should be truthful and helpful.

~ Sylvia Boorstein, It's Easier Than You Think

Over the years, I've become a lot more sensitive to this notion of Right Speech. When I was young, I was very insensitive to the possibility of being able to hurt someone by how one speaks. I thought that the truth was the truth, and it needed to be spoken. I was also more than a little critical and mean-spirited sometimes.

But the notion of Right Speech as the Buddha taught it includes both the truth and being helpful. Sometimes it is not helpful to flatly state the truth without regard for someone's feelings. Choosing our words wisely can make a huge difference.

There is nowhere that this is more true than in intimate relationships. It can be very important to pause and consider if we what we are about to say -- especially when angry -- is both true and helpful. Ken Wilber likes to mention the old Quaker injunction to let the next thing from your mouth be from your best self. I think the Buddha could groove with that.

Too many times we allow ourselves to speak harshly to our partners -- or allow them to speak harshly to us. I have been guilty of this far too often in my life. It can be very hurtful, whether the hurt is acknowledged or not. What it comes down to is a breech of trust -- when we are in an intimate relationship we trust that our partners will treat us with respect, and s/he trusts that we will be respectful.

Obviously, we are going to make mistakes in this area. And when that happens it is important that we (1) acknowledge the hurt that occurred, (2) make an effort to re-establish trust, and (3) work to become more mindful of our speech so that it does not happen again.

As with most things, it comes down to being more mindful of how we think and what comes out of our mouths.


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