By Charles Francis
Most of us find it challenging dealing with difficult people in a healthy manner. Our most common reactions are to either become defensive, or go on the offensive. However, these reactions seldom make the situations any better. In fact, the usually make things worse.
In last week’s post, we learned that we have some valuable tools that can diffuse many of these volatile interactions and help cultivate some understanding and healing. We talked about how deep listening can send the clear message to another person that we have no intentions of harming them. In this post, I’ll share with you how I learned to practice mindful speech, and how we can use it to promote peace and harmony with everyone we engage.
For most of my life, I never paid much attention to the effect my words had on other people in my interactions with them. I usually spoke as a reaction to someone addressing me. I never thought about how my words would be received. Very often, what I said and what the other person heard were two entirely different things. Part of it was because of their preconceived ideas about me and the situation. But the difference was also due to my choice of words. They didn’t always communicate the meaning I intended.
My first big lesson in mindful speech came at a retreat. At the orientation, we were told that we would be practicing noble silence for the next 4 days. My immediate reaction was one of panic. I was surprised at this, because my intellect told me that it wouldn’t harm me to go a few days without speaking, but emotionally I felt very vulnerable.
During those 4 days, I could communicate by writing on a notepad. Since it wasn’t feasible to write out a long conversation, I had to choose my words carefully. This is when I began to think about how best to communicate my message. In other words, I wanted to make sure the other person understood exactly what I meant.
It soon became clear that I used my speech for things other than communication. I used it to get what I wanted, and all the superfluous conversation was intended to manipulate people to that end. And since I was primarily interested in satisfying my own needs, I was not so concerned about the other person’s well-being. I may have told myself that I was, but the truth of the matter was that my own wants and desires always came first. I viewed situations in terms of what I was going to get out of them.
What I learned about myself was that my intentions were not as noble as I thought. If I truly wanted to be the enlightened person I thought I was, then I needed to be more mindful of my speech. That is, I needed to choose words that nurtured healing and understanding.
From that point, I began to think before I spoke. I paid particular attention to how my words might be interpreted. One thing I noticed that I did in the past was poke fun at other people. It may have seemed like harmless fun, but it kept people on the defensive when they were around me. That is, they were always on guard and never at ease.
Now, when I’m around other people I try to use words of encouragement to help uplift their spirits. I try to show sincere interest in the things going on in their lives. Not only does it help the other person, but it also helps me because they become more open and provide me with the spiritual nourishment that helps me grow.
Tips for Practicing Mindful Speech
Mindful speech is a tool that takes some effort to develop. However, the rewards to everyone involved are immeasurable. Here are some tips I recommend for practicing mindful speech:
- Think before you speak. Try to avoid reacting to someone else’s words. Think about how your words will be received.
- Resist the temptation to engage in a power struggle. It’s not necessary to always be right. If their words are abrasive, then we can easily be drawn into a power struggle.
- Try to be forgiving, understanding, and compassionate. If we continue to see the wounded person, then it’s easier to be compassionate and understanding of their shortcomings.
- Choose words that promote trust. These can convey concern for the other person’s well-being.
- Use words of encouragement. These can promote sincerity, harmony, and healing. Express some enthusiasm for others’ accomplishments, no matter how small they may be.
Though I still consider myself to be learning how to practice mindful speech, my interactions with people are much more enjoyable—whether they are with loved ones or with strangers. You too can enjoy these rewards if you stay committed to your meditation practice, and learn to observe you actions with a mindful eye.
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