In today’s hyper connected world our techniques of communication have never been easier. We’re able to send a message to the other side of the planet in a mere instant. But while the ease of communication has grown rapidly it seems as though our ability to communicate on an individual level has suffered immensely – we can sit next to strangers every day on our commutes, in our places of work, in our every day lives and never say a single word to them. Our communication as a society has also greatly suffered with the near constant throwing of stones via talking heads and social media. Even our internal communication within ourselves is often suffering by the poor level of communication we endure from the outside world – our minds riddled with negative self talk and anxiety.
So how do we change this poor communication that is seemingly plaguing our society? How do we cut through the static of negativity and open not only our ears but our hearts too?
Let us start by taking a look at the Buddhist principle of “Right Speech”.
As part of the Buddhist “Noble Eightfold Path”Right Speech is often described by this quote:
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am determined to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope. I will not spread news that I do not know to be certain and will not criticize or condemn things of which I’m not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or community to break. I am determined to make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small. “
The philosophy of Right Speech seems pretty straight forward : The words that we speak carry a great weight behind them. They have the power to dismantle a person, to leave a lasting scar that is carried for decades, and to divide nations. But they also have the power to heal what’s broken, to build up, and to unify. The old saying goes, “The pen is mightier than the sword” because the spoken or written word has significantly more power than any physical act – just look at the Martin Luther King Jr’s of the world, or the Adolf Hitlers : Words can build and words can divide.
Our thoughts become our words. When we speak we give the people listening a direct line into our minds. That’s not to say that we always say what we are thinking – we can thank our internal editor for that – but sometimes emotions take control and we say things that we don’t always mean, or they simply come out wrong. Anger, pain, and suffering take hold and cause our speech to bypass our internal editor and we lash out – we may have had no intention of causing harm, but sometimes we just do. In order to avoid this from happening we must practice mindfulness in our thoughts and emotions – to be fully aware of what powerful words leave our mouths:
Will this harm or help this person?
Will this benefit them or is it simply empty words?
What lasting impression will it leave on them?
When emotions are running high in a situation there’s no shame in simply walking away and saying, “I care about you and because of this I need to take a moment and fully process my emotions before I communicate further.” If more people were comfortable with taking a moment then there would be a lot less damage in this world.
The concept of Right Speech and positive communication doesn’t just apply to what we do with our mouths but what we are willing to do with our ears too. Our ability to listen to someone is just as, if not more, important than what we say to them. If we speak without truly listening than we are merely just speaking our own ideas, thoughts, and opinions at the person and not in response to the person. More often than not, most people just want to be heard – relationships of all kinds suffer because someone doesn’t feel heard and when they don’t feel heard they feel alone.
When the practice of listening isn’t used and we don’t feel heard suffering begins to build inside. We become agitated, aggressive, and withdrawn. It’s like we don’t matter to the world, like we are insignificant in the eyes of those that matter to us. We’ve all experienced this feeling and because we’ve all experienced it we can use that feeling of being unheard and be the person that listens.
Reach out to your loved ones – your aunts, uncles, grandparents and parents. Ask them how they are and just listen with compassion.
Reach out to your friends – the ones you see all the time and ones you have lost contact with. Just sit and listen.
Reach out to your partner – your husband, your wife, your boyfriend or girlfriend. Listen with love and patience.
Reach out to strangers – the ones you see every day at the store, on the bus, or the cubicle next to you. Listen with intrigue and openness.
Be the person who listens.
The third aspect of positive communication, and the one that is often the most overlooked, resides in our internal thoughts – our self communication. Think back on your day, how many external sources of information were you bombarded by? Social media. News headlines. Billboards. You’re being hit with external information right now reading this! All these things have an immense impact on our thoughts and self-communication.
Just watch the nightly news for an hour one night: Murder, Theft, Hopelessness – afterwards you’ll find yourself using negative self talk.
Scroll through social media and you’ll find yourself comparing yourself to your peers – often comparing your bloopers to their highlights.
We must be aware of the types of external communications that we are consuming. The music we listen to, the movies we watch, the articles we read – they all have an impact. For example, I’ve failed to practice “Right Speech” and positive communication in my article “The 10th Circle of Hell” – it was written out of anger and spite and not out of compassion, it probably ignites negative feelings in those who have experienced the pitfalls of retail. These negative forms of communication impact our thoughts, which impact our speech, which impact our relationships.
We must begin to utilize new and more positive forms of communication in our lives if we want to heal ourselves and the world around us. We must practice using words of love that inspire instead of words tear down. We must openly and actively listen to those around us with not only our ears but with our hearts. And we must mindfully be aware of the external communications we consume daily as they directly impact our internal thoughts which extend out to the relationships around us.