Wednesday, April 14, 2010

If you can't say anything nice...

There is a Sufi saying I have come across in a couple of yoga philosophy books in discussions about truth: "Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?" I find this simple little phrase to be really helpful in many different types of situations. It creates a way for me to screen my thoughts before saying anything aloud; before I can't take it back! We have all heard the expression "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." This implies we can say whatever we want, so long as it isn't mean. That's a nice rule for children, I think. As adults I think we are ready to work toward more integrity with our speech.

The first question: Is it true? Let's say that I have heard gossip about an acquaintance, and I run into our mutual friend. It's pretty simple to decide, based on the source, if I know this tidbit is true. Then comes question number 2: Is it kind? Let's say this gossip is positive "Our friend Sally has a new boyfriend!" I am not degrading Sally with this statement. However, when I come to question 3: Is it necessary, I have to rethink passing this along. Does our mutual friend require this information for her well-being? Or, is it even my business to relate? Clearly, the best choice is to keep my mouth shut.

Not every situation is so clear-cut. What if Sally asks me if I like her new haircut, and I really don't think it's a good look for her? My truth is that her hairdresser should be fired, but Sally seems to be really happy. Is my truth the truth? I can only say my opinion of her haircut, which would be unkind and unnecessary since she's happy with her look. Again, I keep my mouth shut! Then things can get really tough, because she's expecting an answer from me. I have lied through my teeth in this situation before, but I think I could find a way to answer her in a way that is neither a lie, nor unkind. How about something like this: "I've heard that is the latest trendy style! I'm so glad you love it!" If she's really astute, I'm sure she'll recognize that I didn't really answer her, but I think most people will be satisfied.

This 3 question guideline can prevent arguments and misunderstandings. It forces us to pre-screen ourselves before we speak. There are a lot of angry people these days, and a lot of people who thrive on gossip. Feelings often get hurt, friends or families may split apart, government leaders are no longer trusted, all because of words! Our thoughts affect our own energy, and I know a lot of negativity brings me down. Negative words hurt others as well as myself. Try thinking of this little expression whenever you are unsure how your words will be received. If more people think before speaking, I believe more peaceful interactions are possible.

1 comment:

  1. What simple and astute questions to help me navigate the best use of speech: "Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?" The first question, "Is it true?" is also the first question that Byron Katie asks. I have found Katie's four questions to be a doorway into deep meditative inquiry, and her website is full of great videos that show her questions being used.
    Thank you for this illuminating post. I feel inspired to bring more awareness to what words I'm choosing to communicate, and to remember the three simple questions from the Sufi masters.