I think we’ve all wanted to share deep truths about ourselves and our pasts, or we’ve wanted to be totally honest with someone we care about. That isn’t always wise. I shared some unhelpful advice with a friend this morning. What I was saying was true, but it wasn’t helpful. Like a typical man, I approached her problem as something to solve rather than something to listen to. She just needed to vent, she didn’t need my advice.

 

By John Lee Pendall

THNK is an easy way to remember what skillful speech is. Is it true? is it helpful? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

If something doesn’t meet one of the first three, then it’s probably unskillful speech. If it meets the first three but not the last one, then it could be skillful if it’s the appropriate time to say it. Skillful speech is difficult when we’re distracted, tired, inebriated, or emotional, so those are exactly the times we need it the most.

Is it true? Lying, or saying things that we’re not sure of, is a great way to create disharmony, confuse people and lose their respect. It also take a lot of energy to keep the lie going—energy we could use on more worthwhile things. Our opinions aren’t necessarily true.

I’ll say that again: our opinions aren’t necessarily true.

When we’re sharing an opinion or belief, it’s helpful to throw in phrases like, “I think,” “I believe,” or, “In my experience.”

Is it helpful? I think we’ve all wanted to share deep truths about ourselves and our pasts, or we’ve wanted to be totally honest with someone we care about. That isn’t always wise. I shared some unhelpful advice with a friend this morning. What I was saying was true, but it wasn’t helpful. Like a typical man, I approached her problem as something to solve rather than something to listen to. She just needed to vent, she didn’t need my advice.

Also, if you’re always honest about the things you’re thinking and feeling, then a lot of people probably think you’re an asshole. There’s no wisdom or skill to blurting out whatever crosses our minds. It shows a lack of character and restraint. I don’t usually “share my truth” unless someone asks for it, and they usually don’t haha.

Is it necessary? If something’s untrue or unhelpful, then it’s probably unnecessary as well. Why waste a perfectly good silence or an opportunity to listen?

Is it kind? The Suttas—this one is closer to, “Is it pleasing to hear?” Not everything that’s true, helpful and necessary is pleasant. There are hard truths out there, and we might find ourselves situations where we need to hear them. In those moments, we’re asked to reflect on if this is the right moment for that. Saying, “We’re all going to die someday,” over a loudspeaker at a kid’s baptism probably isn’t the right time for that sort of thing, even though coming to terms with that truth is helpful and necessary in general.

Explaining skillful speech is pretty easy, but it’s really, really hard to practice. Especially since there’s unskillful speech all over the place. Each time we hear it, it’s like we’re being tempted to participate because participation feels good. But getting involved in that aspect of society usually muddies our minds and sets off chains of cause and effect that keep us from the cushion.

These chains always eventually lead to something harmful or hurtful—for us or someone else. So, by practicing skillful speech, we’re doing our own little part to save the world.

For me, skillful speech involves not getting involved in blazing debates. There’s nothing helpful that my opinion can bring to the table in those situations.

Sometimes, all I can do (or the best thing to do) is be the annoying guy that brings up skillful speech.

 

Photo: Pixabay

Editor: Dana Gornall

 

Did you like this post? You might also like:

Signs of Spiritual Progress.

By Pema Chödrön The idea of spiritual progress is pretty suspect. After all, isn’t it a journey without goal? But there are some ways, says Pema Chödrön, we can tell if our practice is working. It is tempting to ask ourselves if we are making “progress” on the...

Meeting Your First Teacher: How to Begin a Body-Positive Path

  By Kellie Schorr   Dr. Maya Angelou met her teacher, Bertha Flowers, after childhood trauma took away her ability to speak for five years. Flowers took Maya Angelou to the library, brought books home for her to read, and was instrumental in helping Dr....

Tis But a Scratch: Metta & Redefining the Super Mom.

  By Dana Gornall   If you're at all familiar with Monty Python, you probably know exactly where this line comes from: Tis but a scratch. If you are not familiar, it comes from the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a British, satirical comedic film that...

The Space Between Breaths

  By Anshi To breathe---always taken for granted. Especially considering that, "I can't breathe," was basically the tagline for last year. We are the breath. We can't live without it, and there's no it without us. We're entangled. We also are the breath---the...

Comments

comments

Latest posts by John Pendall (see all)