July 19, 2013

Right Speech: The Power of Your Words. ~ Dana Gornall

“Oh. My. God. Did you see how tight her pants were? Her legs look like freaking sausages!”

I was a very young, naive college student working an internship in an office full of women, and one of them had just left for a meeting. This particular office was staffed with women who were well known for their experience and skill and I was thrilled to be among them. I was so very green and eager to please everyone that the enthusiasm overflowed out my pores.

On this slow afternoon we were all sitting around the table chatting and I was taking in all the “office talk.”  No sooner was she out the door when the verbal bashing began.

“Oh I know! Did you see her hair? What color orange is that?”

“Well you know she’s just trying to keep her husband. I hear he’s straying.”

“Of course he is! Wouldn’t you? She could miss a lunch.”

I was floored.

I didn’t think real grown-up professionals talked like this and couldn’t understand how they hated this woman so much yet were so incredibly nice to her earlier. I felt like I had inadvertently stumbled into a time machine and had been whisked back to junior high. Did I hear the soundtrack from The Breakfast Club playing in my head?

Dishing dirt with your peers comes from a desire to belong to a group and be liked—most of us want to fit in. This driving need can encourage us to find ways to be accepted that may not always be ethical.

We like to feel a part of something, whether it be a bar-hopping, concert going group of friends, or a once a month tea drinking book club.

Finding gratification and identity in friendships leads to happier feelings and better success which is a good thing. This sense of belonging strengthens our identity and the acceptance into the circle results in group thought.

Ironically, while people may take part in gossiping to gain approval and status, studies show that most of us don’t want to be around a person who is known to talk badly of others. If you know someone is always putting others down, you have to assume they are talking about you too. Many of us can think of a person who fits that description in our lives—the nosy neighbor, the co-worker who knows the dirt on everyone, or the relative that dishes out shameful accounts of everyone at the annual family reunion.

The person being discussed, hurt by this malicious talk, is not the only one effected by it, but gossip has repercussions on a deeper and more powerful level.

In Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, he lists the first agreement as:

Be Impeccable with Your Word:

“The word is so powerful that one word can change a life or destroy the lives of millions of people. Some years ago one man in Germany, by the use of the word, manipulated a whole country of intelligent people. He led them into a war with his word. He convinced others to commit the most atrocious acts of violence. he activated people’s fear with the word, and like a big explosion, there was killing and war all around the world.”

It’s true that the words we choose have the capacity to hurt, kill and promote fear and violence, but the flip side of that power is that our words also have the ability to lift a person up and guide them in their journey to full potential. With our words we can show compassion and ease a troubled mind.

A simple phrase like, “I understand. I’m here for you.” has potency.

Statements evoke emotion and action, and with it a whole lot of responsibility. Just as you may recall a time when you have experienced gossip in your life, you may also remember fondly when a friend had your back. Perhaps when someone told you that what you did mattered or said something that made you feel important, influenced a decision or choice.

The effect of positive words can be just as profound as words that bite you and in the aftermath have the ability to shape your actions.

This idea is highlighted in Buddhist teachings such as The Noble Eightfold Path which is given as an avenue to end suffering. Included in this path is right speech, a single limb of its teaching, but speaks volumes regarding mental discipline and ethical development.

Right Speech:

  • Abstain from false speech; do not tell lies or deceive.
  • Do not slander others or speak in a way that causes disharmony or enmity.
  • Abstain from rude, impolite or abusive language.
  • Do not indulge in idle talk or gossip.

Know that you have influence in your words, and one single statement has the capacity to change one person’s view and in turn change another.

At first, being aware of right speech might be a challenge. You may struggle in this new approach to socialization and your current friends may not understand your attitude or put you down for not taking part in their ritualistic criticism. Knowing how to respond is just a small part of growth and change, but putting this into practice is a discipline that can be life changing—for yourself and those around you.

Could I have done anything differently in the office that day while I was an intern? I’m not sure but I’ll never forget the experience and how I looked at those women after that—faulted and insecure.

There is power in your words. How are you going to use it? 

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{photo: via Pinterest}

Ed: Sara Crolick

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