This article was originally written long before the Art of the Big Lie and Fake News was as pervasive as blood and breath. But if you don’t want to get sucked into that dark “1984”-tarpit way of communicating, you are going to have to think longer and harder about what comes out of your mouth than you used to.
“Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?”
I’m not sure where that simple phrase came from. Some say it’s in the Bible. Some folks say they found it in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. Some say it’s Buddhist. Probably all of them are right. But the most important thing is that IT — the idea — is very right indeed.
We are bombarded by so much information these days, so much verbiage, that folks have to shout to be heard.
We shout when we use hyperbole and exaggeration; if it isn’t quite the truth, who’s to know?
We shout when we say something witty, even if it’s cruel. Honestly, how many of us really know about the latest celebrity’s life and troubles? But they are the butt of so many jokes that almost everyone knows one — and tells one.
And lastly, we can feel so drowned by the cacophony of the world that we shout anything that comes to mind, just to let people know we’re out there.
None of it works for the enlightened mind. But because it’s a knee-jerk reaction, it’s a habit that can be hard to break.
So the three-legged stool of Compassionate Speech is a good piece of furniture to bring into your soul’s dwelling-place. Here’s how to build it, strong and lasting:
#1: IS IT TRUE?
When you’re speaking, stick to facts. Think “neutral.” And if you can’t be sure about something, don’t fall back on “I’ve heard it said that” or “someone told me” or “people say.” If you don’t know it, don’t say it.
Don’t mistake opinion for truth. Just because you think someone’s wrong about something you can’t say “he’s wrong.” State truth. “I don’t think he’s right on this one.”
Own up to your own truth, but don’t compromise someone else’s.
#2: IS IT KIND?
Truth is important, yes. But it is not an excuse to castigate, or to put someone down to hold up your own virtue.
And just because you might want to know about something doesn’t mean your friend does. “Darling, I hate to tell you, but it’s for your own good…” is a cop-out, pure and simple.
Kind speech enlivens.
It gives hope where it can, it builds up where possible, and only gently “whaps the recipient on the nose with a newspaper” (think very small puppy) when something needs to be pointed out, enabling the target of the kind comment to retain their dignity.
#3: IS IT NECESSARY?
This is when “tasting your words” before you spit them out is the wisest course of action.
Will you regret later saying what you’ve said? Might it come back to haunt you if you are not 100% sure that your words adhere to Rules 1 and 2?
Sometimes just holding back and waiting to see how a situation progresses will prove that the person in question either Gets the Clue Brick themselves, or the situation morphs so that what would have been necessary no longer is.
Here, also, if you say “yes, it’s necessary” ask yourself — necessary for whom?
For you? For a friend who would say something but doesn’t have the courage? Because your mother/brother/best friend would if they were only here to do it?
None of these reasons will suffice.
“Necessary” means that all will benefit by your comment, that your words create a win-win situation, either immediately or with patience and willingness.
This prescription can be a tough one to swallow, when we see everyone else around us mouthing off with what seems to be impunity — getting laughs when we aren’t, getting attention we wish we had, or beating us to the scoop about something juicy. After all, we’re only human.
But as you purge your personality of these petty poisons, you will find yourself clearer, calmer, and more comfortable with silence. You won’t feel the need to shout.
And people will come to realize that when you speak — even in a voice gentler and less fraught than most of what’s out there — what you have to say is worth hearing, thinking about, and taking to heart.