Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Our Words: True? Kind? Necessary?

So, there's a "quote" that's been floating around the internet for some time attributed to Buddha that basically says, "If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind."  Now, while this may or may not have originated with Buddha or even some other ancient philosopher, and was probably just from a poem in the 1800s, I still think it's great advice.

As a writer, I naturally find words of great importance.  But I think as a rule, people underestimate the intense power of their words, especially on social media.  In the last few days, I've been overwhelmed by stories of people who have committed suicide over bullying (both cyber and face to face), and stories of just plain ignorance and thoughtlessness.  One just today a friend shared with me about the horrible things said to some precious adopted children who had already been through so much.  But what's worse is that the cruelties seemed to come not from "bullies" or even by people attempting to hurt or wound.  They were just the words that flew out of people's mouths before they checked them with the three questions: "True? Kind? Necessary?"

The words that come out of our mouths have power.  That's just a fact.  The question is, will we use our power for good or evil.  A clich├ęd question, I know, but valid.  Do we think through how our words will affect someone?  Or do we think only about giving vent to the endless parade of thoughts that go through our minds?

When I was younger, I used to think that I would like to read people's minds.  How fun would that be, to know the inner workings of someone else's mind?  But as I got older and realized the completely unorganized and unforgiving nature of my own thoughts, I realized, it would not be so fun to be able to be a mind reader.

Then Facebook and (even worse) Twitter came along.  People suddenly had a source (outside of their own journals) to vent every single intimate detail of their minds, and every inane activity of every minute of every day, knowing that others would read them, and feeling an inflated sense of importance because of this.  A strange kind of "bravery" takes place in social media, leading to a complete lack of filter, and then this plays into actual interactions with people.  It's a scary side-effect of these websites.  People are becoming cruel, unthinking, sometimes vicious.  This comes under the heading of "necessary?".  Is what I am about to say (or post) necessary for anyone to hear or read?  Will the world or my sphere of influence be better because I've shared?

The question is: why?  Is it the perceived barrier of cyberspace that they think will protect them from repercussions?  Is it because they can't immediately see the effect of their words on another person, the pain or tears welling in their eyes?  Is it mob mentality?  Is it a way to deflect from their own flaws and insecurities?

I submit that it may be all of the above.  But regardless of the reasons, we are all human beings.  All part of a human family.  And before that we were spirits, part of the spirit family of God.  Why do we spend our energy tearing down when we could spend the same energy building up?

I don't pretend that I haven't been guilty of any of things.  There have been many times in my life when I 've spoken thoughtlessly or unkindly.  I think back on sibling fights, when you know enough about the other person to make a really biting remark.  But without exception, I regret every single time I didn't follow the advice to think before I spoke and to ask the three questions.

I'm reminded of one occasion that haunts my memory to this day.  I was babysitting my 4 year-old niece.  She was throwing a bit of a temper tantrum as 4-year-olds do sometimes.  I put her in time out in her room, and she turned and slammed the door, not realizing my finger was there.  Well, the finger was broken, and I was in a lot of pain.  So, I raised my voice, and spoke really sharply to her.  I could tell immediately after the words left my mouth two things: 1) she hadn't meant to hurt me and was deeply sorry, and 2) I had just hurt her with my words probably more than she had hurt me with the entire force of the door.  She cried and apologized and begged my forgiveness in the ways of a little child, cradling my injured hand in hers, and kissing it to make it better.  I often think of that moment when I catch myself about to speak without thinking.  I wonder how different our world would be if we tried to treasure other people's feelings as we treasure the feelings and sensibilities of children.

The scriptures tell us that the Lord Jesus Christ was the Word and that by the power of His word, He created the earth and the heavens.  His word is that powerful.  We are attempting to become more Christ-like, to return to live with Him and Heavenly Father in perfected glory.  Should we not try to temper our words to also emulate the Master?  And even if that is not your goal, for one reason or another, a more basic concept would be to treat others as you would want to be treated.  The classic Golden Rule.  If I wouldn't want ridiculous and cruel questions asked about my personal decisions, then I won't do it to another.  If I wouldn't want to read cruel criticisms about myself on the internet, then I won't do it to another.  If I wouldn't want to be called names, then I won't do it to another.  This is kindergarten, friends.  The basics of human interaction.  It hurts me to see human beings treating each other with cruelty or without respect.

So, let's get back to the basics: The Golden Rule and the three questions.  Let's try to put more thought into the words that come out of our mouths, and recognize the power within us, and within our brothers and sisters.  Namaste. 

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