Thursday, May 7, 2009

Take the Harmless Speech Agreement

"Words have the power to destroy or heal. When words are both true and kind, they can change our world." -- Buddha's Little Instruction Book, Jack Kornfield.

I'd like to invite you to participate with me in an experiment of harmless speech, for whatever time you'd like. I'm going to start with a month, then see where it goes from there. 

Harmless speech meets a threefold criterion: "Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?" 

Buddha described harmful speech as lying, slander, abusive speech, and gossip. 

Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers." 

The first time I took a vow related to speech was in the early 80s. I was in a leadership training program with Landmark Education, in preparation for being trained as a seminar leader. The first program was six months long and was like boot camp for life in many ways. As part of the program, we made a number of agreements: clean your home, clean your car, get your finances straight, etc. One of the most impactful agreements was about speech. "No gossip or undermining conversation for six months."

When I first heard that agreement, I thought it would be a challenge, but I really didn't think I gossiped that much. But once the vow was taken, I was shocked at how often gossip or undermining comments would want to LEAP to my lips. By the power of the vow, I wouldn't say it, and so mindfulness began.

After awhile, the thought would still leap to my mind but not to my lips. It was still a struggle not to gossip, but I wasn't on "automatic" anymore. 

Then after a while, the thought would come to mind but I wasn't tempted to say it.

Finally, toward the end of the program, the tide of negative thoughts literally quit coming to mind. Not all, but I was out of the habitual power of it. 

I remember the first time after the program was over that I broke the new habit and said something that was a little bit sniggering about someone. It was like a shock to my system, as though I'd opened up a door in my brain and thrown a load of dust into my mindstream. 

The connection between speech and thought was clear. Calming down my speech had allowed my perception to become subtle enough to see it. Participating in harmful speech hurts ONESELF. And it is a destroying fire with others -- damaging relationships, reputations, and whole futures. 

When we participate in harmful speech, we are strengthening the illusion of friend/enemy, self/other, the whole dualistic trip. Which only leads us further away from living an awakened life. Besides, all we can know is our own experience. If we really want to know what's going on with someone, we have to ask them ourselves.

These days, I've been hearing a lot of gossip, slander, and actual lies second hand. So after a short fit of moral outrage, I looked inward and decided the best answer was to restrengthen my own commitment to speech that is kind, true, and healing, and bring that energy into my environment. What goes around comes around, right?

Anyone want to try the experiment? Join me in "Harmless Speech Month" (or day or week, etc.)

Hey, maybe we can create a wave of kind speech. Feel free to pass it on.


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