“Before you speak, ask yourself: is it kind, is it necessary, is it true,
does it improve on the silence?”
Shirdi Sai Baba
The Buddha had a lot to say about right speech and communication. He believed that words had tremendous power and should be wielded with utmost care. Just recently, I heard a talk called “Choice Words” by Steve Armstrong. In many ways, the five precepts of well-spoken speech he offers apply as much to the written word as to the spoken word. With this in mind, here’s an overview:
1. Speak with a friendly heart: Share your thoughts with love, care, and compassion and the other person’s well-being in your heart. Speak in ways that honor and nourish your relationships and connectedness while knowing what it is you wish to convey.
2. Speak gently: Through your choice of words, speak in a way that paves the way and attracts the listener to your understanding. Create a sphere of intimacy so that the listener will not be afraid to hear what’s being said. Connect in a space of trust. Show care and attention to intention.
3. Speak the truth: Refrain from intentional deception. A commitment to being honest is a powerful act. When we speak, what is it we really want? Is it to acknowledge the truth? To speak what’s true in our hearts is difficult.
4. Speak what is or will be beneficial. Speak what is necessary, what needs to be said. There’s a stream of truth that runs through each one of us. Before speaking, ask yourself: does it improve on the silence?
5. Speak at the proper time: Wait for the right time to say what needs to be said. Be sensitive to the listener: speak, not on your timetable, but on theirs. Speak when what you have to say can be heard. Exercise patience and watchful understanding. We know the time to say what needs to be said.
In some mysterious and valuable way, it seems to me that each of these ideas applies to the “contract” between the writer and reader. If we take them to heart, I believe that we’ll write truer, stronger, deeper words. I hope you’ll find them helpful in your work. Write on!