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The Examined Word

manipulated photo Buddha statue

Buddha Speaks

What an amazing power is speech! Speech is sound and meaning. Consider the whine of the mosquito, the music of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the crash of a car accident, the susurrating sounds of a river. All these sounds have meaning— like words. We babble, we blurt, we gossip, we lie, we sing, we curse, we praise. Our words may uplift others through poetry or injure with criticism. Our speech defines us. “Speech is the mirror of the soul; as a man speaks, so is he.” Publilius Syrus quotes (Roman author, 1st century B.C.)

When you realize the importance of speech in our daily lives, you recognize why it’s necessary to monitor how you use it. To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel.”

Buddha points out the wisdom of pausing before talking back in 563-483 B.C.: “The wise ones fashioned speech with their thought, sifting it as grain is sifted through a sieve.” Speech is formed in the inner being and rises up through the throat. It flows out the mouth, formed by the tongue and lips and is released into creation . Once gone, it can’t come back which is why it’s valuable to ask yourself three questions BEFORE the words go out.

  1. Is it necessary? Whether speech is necessary is a question one asks before forming the message. This calls for a pause after the impulse to speak arises. That pause is crucial and can make all the difference.
  2. Is it true? By truthful I mean no “white lies”, no “fibs”. Absolute honesty, through and through.
  3. Is it kind? Will your words be beneficial? Don’t add to the ugliness in the world.

When I stop to consider my speech, in advance of the committed word, I sometimes have doubts and need to go to the smartest people in my neighborhood. My mental neighborhood, that is. I have mental role models for various behaviors: Jesus, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, friends, mentors, wise folk. (Even the Star Trek captain, Jean Luc Picard gives me insight when I’m trying word things in a “captain”-like way.)

Finally, as Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Maybe the unexamined word is not worth speaking.


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