In the last post, I referenced the Buddha describing the best time to speak as when our words are true, beneficial and (whether welcome or unwelcome) timely. It’s worth thinking about what timely and untimely speech look like for us.
Probably the most common way in which we address each other unskilfully is when we want another person to change, or to do something that we want, but they may not. So, if a family member is a drinker or a smoker or overweight and we know it would be better for them if they stopped drinking/smoking/overeating and under-exercising, well, perhaps that news would not be well received. With the possible exception of drinking, the subjects know that they are harming themselves, and they are working like mad to ignore the facts in front of them. Our suggesting that they change is more likely to generate an unhappy confrontation than a change in behavior. With the exception of a formal intervention, with a group of close family and friends, such requests rarely produce the desired results.
Another situation that comes to mind is the unhappy position of those who must deliver urgent bad news. When the police come knocking in the early hours of the morning, it’s rarely good news. Delivering unwelcome news is a difficult job, but one that must be done. Military families know that when an officer and a chaplain are at the door, something is seriously amiss. Very sad, but part of life.
Sometimes when a person is in the last stage of life, it’s just impossible to support their belief that they’ll get better and be fine. Silence works pretty well here, I find.
Even with good news, it’s best to check what’s going on before jumping in. Perhaps if you’ve got news that you know might get a reaction, it would be best to give a little warning. Look for the right moment, possibly not in front of an audience. People will remember where they were when they heard some big news, and taking some trouble to create an optimal environment is part of right speech. Several times, people have told be about getting the news of an illness, a death, an engagement, a planned move – all kinds of things. Each of these announcements causes us to make adjustments to our view of the world and how we fit in. It’s amazing what a big impact our words and their contexts can carry.