The third area of practice with wise speech is recognizing and abandoning harsh speech. Harsh speech includes both specific words and the tone of voice in delivering ordinary words. First on the list is cursing, which is a potent de-sensitizer. Saying “effing this and effing that” is a way of making everything uniformly distasteful, a way of hardening the heart. Where’s the space for joy? Or even for variety? All cursing does is reinforce anger, every time you swear. We can substitute either silence or gentle (but clear) speech. Treat yourself and others with respect by refraining from cursing.
Other types of harsh speech are angry speech, including sarcasm, belittling speech, and unnecessarily loud speech. When I was in grades seven and eight, a major form of social interaction was the “rank out”. We students competed to deliver the most elaborate and pointed public put-downs. At some level, the competition was funny. But inevitably, there was an object of the scorn, who was hurt, though they might not show it.
It is not hard to find examples of people bossing each other around without any sensitivity or kindness. Is this you? Is it someone you know? It does matter what we do, not only to others, but to our own heart. Every time we speak harshly to another person, we are damaging ourselves.
There’s some effort involved in starting to notice this process and restraining it. If we replace harsh speech with silence or kindness, we will be happier as a result. There’s a contentment in knowing that we have taken responsibility for our verbal actions.