Recently I made a promise in my faith community to engage in right speech. (On the way home, I gossiped of course, experiencing the usual instant failure that occurs right after a big commitment, before you get the hang of it.)
After I hung up the phone, stopping the conversation with a joke about my immediate promise breaking, it occurred to me that when I counseled families to schedule “money meetings” at the same time and place on a weekly basis ( Saturday morning at the kitchen table from 10 to 11, for example), I was really giving them a process for setting boundaries around speech.
Because money conversations tend to trigger all kinds of emotions, it’s helpful to establish firm guidelines about when and where these conversations happen; often, it’s a good idea to establish a policy that whatever is said at that kitchen table, stays at that kitchen table. ( You have to wait to say anything about money until the next meeting.) People learned to limit the time they spent bothering each other about finances.
After about a year, my clients who practiced this habit became better at communicating with each other, and talking about finances in general. Since most people are uncomfortable talking about money, it’s almost as if you are gifted with a miracle light saber of prosperity if you are at ease asking for a raise, or a bargain. I reminded myself and my clients on a regular basis that we can actually practice conversations about money, as a way to get better at them.
I don’t know why I never thought about setting up conversational boundaries and habits like this about other subjects.
Can you imagine the confident young people and satisfied partners that might emerge, if they knew that most of the day, they were safe from even our justified wrath? That even if we were RIGHT, we stuck to an agreed limit? What if we established an appropriate time and place to practice our conversations about difficult subjects, reassuring one another that we would get better at it over time? Could we learn to eliminate careless words? Could we set firm boundaries about our self-talk as well?
What if we taught our children that it’s perfectly okay to be angry, and established a safe time limit, and a place to express it? What if, before or after the after school snack, we said, “OK, you have 30 minutes to say, scream or cry ANYTHING. Then I get 5 minutes ( or you go first, or not at all as the parent) and then we move on?”
What if we got complete with our partners, each and every day? I pray before I eat, but what if I also encouraged my family to say whatever needed to be said, so that we could all ask for the grace to handle it?
What if I encouraged full self-expression in myself and others, instead of engaging in the near constant shaming and blaming that happens in normal, loving families? What if as parents, we put limits on our nagging, no matter what?
“I will only criticize your actions twice each day, I SWEAR. ”
Is it really okay to tell a child again and again, that you are sick and tired of their habits? Is it beneficial to nag your spouse about procrastination? Even if someone misused the credit card, is it helpful to nag them (or yourself) about it on the way to your child’s school play? Does it help to tell ourselves that we are losers because we missed a work-out?
Exactly how many times a day is it ok to criticize someone’s behavior?( especially our own) There should be a rule!
Are we sure that we are giving our children, our partners, and ourselves enough room to just be? (a seriously messed-up flawed human, like every other being on the planet?)
Today, I am going to carefully consider ways to practice right speech. Although all the rules I’ve learned have been helpful, for me, there is only one rule that really matters:
Right speech always expresses unconditional love.
Everything else needs firm discipline and steady structure, so that words do no harm.
Speech is a gift, not a weapon. We can invest our lifetime ration of words carefully, just like we handle money, time, or any other precious resource.
I just told a loved one, again, that something needs to change about them. (wasting precious, powerful speech)
I am failing miserably, but at least my promise is helping me to develop awareness.
Name it, claim it, dump it. I hope that the classic 12 step adage applies to my struggle with right speech.
Like many worthwhile endeavors, it seems far easier than it is ( just like the toe stretch in yoga).