“Right speech” saves relationships, mends hearts


Greater happiness? Less suffering? Let your everyday speaking and listening lead the way.
Few teachings are as refined and as practical as those that guide us on Buddhism’s “The Noble Eightfold Path”. Today I am thinking deeply about the third: Right speech.  [You will also find a video talk on this website on “Right View”.]

So much speech in our communities, workplaces and homes is unguarded. And far too much is plainly hurtful, blaming, bitter or unkind. Or cheapening. Or self-aggrandizing. Far too much public speech is rampantly aggressive. In our governments at all levels we hear speech that’s plainly demeaning. In our streets and in many homes, we hear parents speak to their little children with contempt or rage. Partners and lovers too. It hurts my heart to hear this, especially when it is showing children how little self-control, restraint or even love so many adults have. Does this reflect an inner monologue of hostility, frustration or self-pity? Or just too much concern with one’s own self and too little meaningful interest in others’ wellbeing – or even their point of view? Or a sense of entitlement that has become seriously misdirected? Perhaps it also reflects a simple ignorance: I could do better. I could be more patient, receptive, more interested and far more loving.

I also feel strongly about the harm that gossip brings: stale stories founded on fourth-hand impressions and sensation. Or entire fictions. They seldom serve anyone well, not least the “teller”. When you are telling a story that involves someone else, pause. Why are you telling this? Is this your story to tell? Do you actually have the slightest idea what life is like for that person? Stereotyping happens under the guise of “harmless” gossip also. And stereotyping also disrespects and harms.

Practising “right speech” means listening and speaking with freshness, respect, compassion, and honest awareness of its effect on others. Yes, this may seem awkward initially, or dimming of spontaneity. But spontaneity itself can be overrated. Far more joyful is to observe the effects of what you are saying, and how you say it. Take charge of that! Demand far less of others; give far more. Thoughtful speaking and newly attentive listening are your treasures. Listening more deeply, speaking with greater care and thoughtfulness, silencing criticism and gossip, your relationships will soften and heal. Better still your daily communications will be bringing healing, not harm. Your life will flourish.


You can follow Stephanie Dowrick on her Facebook pages. Or you can join the Universal Heart Network via these pages. Stephanie Dowrick also leads interfaith services at Pitt Street Uniting Church, Sydney, on the 3rd Sunday of each month at 3pm.