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Day 181 - Third Fold - Right Speech

I am not going to lie...this one is hard. What is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from idle chatter. That is a pretty long list...

A lot to tackle on a Friday...


Lying is words spoken with the intention to misrepresent the truth. This one seems easy. Do not lie. Everyone can agree that lying doesn’t really serve us yet we all do it all the time. Sometimes our lies are great: “I am not sleeping with the used car salesman” and sometimes our lies are tiny: “I did not eat all the brownies at midnight”. Sometimes they are critical: “I did give the person the appropriate amount of life saving medicine.” Sometimes they are seemingly unimportant: “I did read for 30 minutes today like I am supposed to on home school.”

What they all have in common regardless of impact, severity or intention is that they violate yesterday’s intention of not causing harm. We didn’t agree yesterday that we could cause harm if we had a good reason, needed to, it was the kinder thing to do, or because the truth became inconvenient. Not causing harm comes before right speech for a reason. We agree that we do not want to cause harm, then we get to the whole lying thing.

Divisive Speech

What is that any way? Speech that is spoken with the intent to cause rifts between people. Any speech that tends to cause discord, lack of harmony or disagreement between people. I know A LOT of people who seem to do this for sport...I may or may not be related to one...crap, I just violated right speech...again.

Does practice refraining from divisive speech mean that we never say anything controversial or disagreeable? Do we just have to walk the earth being ever mindful of every word we say so that we don’t end up causing disagreement? No. That would be impossible. But I think the operating principle here is to work to bring people together with speech not push them further apart. An example...

You go with a friend to a dinner party where you know only the person you were invited by. As you spend a little time getting to know the people in attendance, you find that they all seem to support a political view that you do not share. They find out that you have put up a flag in the other camp and begin to egg you on, openly challenging your views and reasons for supporting the other side. This would be divisive speech. They have no idea who you are or where your sensitivities lie and are bringing up inflammatory topics just to cause discord. You would be reacting similarly by throwing things back at them. Getting your digs in. Practicing right speech in this scenario would look like listening. Not commenting and further driving the wedge...but listening to each other’s different points of view with the intention to really understand where the other person is coming from. Agreement, while likely not possible, isn’t the goal, hearing and supporting the other person’s ability to share their perspective is the goal. That is kinda the opposite of divisive.

Abusive Speech

This is speech spoken with the intent to hurt another person.This one seems easy. You should not call people mother fuckers...even when they are acting like mother fuckers. But it is not quite that simple. It is also not thinking in your head that people are mother fuckers. Those internal thoughts are speech, just in your head. Believe it or not, that counts. I know, total bummer. But if you really want to practice right speech, you have to refrain from all speech that is abusive, even the thoughts in your head that no one but you hears...that is still speech.

You might be thinking, “why the fuck does that matter?” Because thoughts become speech. If you think it, then you will eventually say it. And even if you practice amazing restraint, and do not say it, your behavior will show the speech even if you are controlled enough not to say it. So therefore, we can’t think in abusive thoughts lest they become speech and worse yet action.

This also goes for how you talk to yourself about yourself. Yep, saying “wow, I am such a fat piece of shit” in your head is violative of this principle. Gotta let that go too.

For me, abusive speech is anything that is not kind, not helpful, untrue and lacks merit. Intention matters a lot here. Sometimes you can really try to do or not do all of the above and still we fuck it up. Like right there where I used the word fuck when I really didn’t need to...

Idle Chatter Speech

This is speech that is spoken with no purposeful intent at all. It is, at its most basic form, Gossip. For me, this is speech usually about other people but it can also be completely self have been at a social gathering where someone just talks and talks and talks about themselves...yep, that counts. I think this one more than the others is trying to get us to really think about what we are saying and why. WHY AM I TALKING? Would be a good question to find out where you are on the whole right speech thing. We talk a lot and for varied reasons. We talk without being particularly mindful of when the last time we let the other person talk. We talk without really listening to the other person. We talk without really caring about how the other person feels about what we just said. We talk and talk but fail to connect because we are not really concerned with the person receiving our words. We are only concerned with our need to speak.

For me, I do much better with this with a visual. I try to go into conversation with others with this visual in mind: My words are like arrows that have impact, force and can cause great harm or great kindness. As soon as they leave my lips, I like to try to watch them “hit” the other person. See if they land on their target and what the effect is on the other person. It is hard to watch sometimes. It is hard to remember to do this. But as with everything else, it is a practice. I get to practice doing better every day of every minute of my life. The best news ever is that I am never going to perfect it, instead I am going to screw it up repeatedly and then I get to try again. A never ending lesson to try again and do better with compassion for myself, for you, for all of us just trying to be heard out there.

I am not going to lie...this one is hard for me. Not because I don’t want to do it but because I do want to practice right speech and if I really want to that means seeing all the ways that I fail. That is not a really fun thing for me. I prefer looking towards all the things I am better at...But practicing right speech requires that I see where I fall short and then try again.

So I try to not lie, even little ones, like “hey do I look good in these pants?” I try to as lovingly as I can say, “no, but you do look amazing in the ones you wore to that party last week.” I try not to engage in speech that is going to cause discord and is abusive like “you didn’t feed the dog...again goddammit” and instead say, “is there something I can do to assist you in remembering to complete your tasks, sweetie?” Then finally I can try to use speech as a way to connect with people in a meaningful way and refrain from just blathering on and on about nothing, caring not at all that I boring you to death or hurting your feelings or saying something not very cool about someone else regardless of whether or not I am “just trying to be helpful." For me, all of the above becomes way easier if I do the work required to clean up my thoughts. This is not always possible, my thoughts get pretty messed up sometimes.

For me, when my speech devolves it is helpful to return to the fold before it. If my speech is faltering, it is because I forgot about right view and/or right resolve. By returning to either one of those, I am usually able to quickly right myself and begin again. And that is the whole purpose of staying in the present as it is the only place I can be aware of what I am even doing....

Finally, intention matters a lot. I can say nice words with a bad intention or motive and it doesn’t make it right speech. I must be clean in my thoughts, words and intentions. We all know what it feels like to have someone tell us how lovely we are, but know for a fact, that they are only trying to get something out of us or get us to change our minds about something to comport with the other person’s agenda. Not cool.

Right speech means really getting to know your own thoughts and mind before you share it with another. Seeing all the ways that your mind jockeys for position, is a very good barometer as to where you are going to fall with speech. Getting to know where you are hurting, in need of support, why you feel that way and how you believe you should go about getting your needs met is a great exercise in learning about what is going on inside you BEFORE you share it with another and cause the other person to have to deal with all of that.

And, it is time for me to be quiet now, lest I say anything further that might be construed as unskillful...

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