Speak gently

Don’t speak harshly to anyone;
What you say will be said back to you.
Hostile speech is painful,
And you will meet with retaliation.

Dhammapada v. 133, translated by Gil Fronsdal

Interesting that a verse on the subject of harsh speech is included in the section called “Violence” in the Dhammapada. This is probably the most common form of violence that we indulge in, and the hardest to forswear.

By making a continuous effort not to speak harshly to or about anyone, we are training our minds in the direction of wholesome action. We recognize that hurt is caused and problems are multiplied by our angry words and so we refrain from speaking when angry. When we stop the harsh speech, we are interrupting the flow of violence in the world, and we are “taming the mind”.

As David Brooks’ article (attached to the previous post) posits, it is kind of amazing that we are not at each others’ throats all the time. Aggression, defensiveness, bellicosity – these are part of human nature. I would argue that they are forms of greed, hatred and delusion; they are forms we need to recognize as not just “my problem”, but as a foundation of the human experience. They often seem bigger and more urgent than those other pre-existing foundations: generosity, kindness and clarity.

Because we talk all the time, monitoring our speech is a supremely effective way to recognize which basic motivations we’re working from, hour by hour, day by day. If we know that both sides of our nature are available all the time, we can keep re-orienting ourselves in the direction we want to go.

1 Comment

Filed under Dhammapada

One response to “Speak gently

  1. James Carr

    A rich, insightful piece worthy of re-reading and reflection. How often do we inflict damage on others, and in the process on ourselves too, with harsh words? Better to speak softly and with tolerance and compassion.

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