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Lions Roar : September 2015
present with what is going on right in front of us. 2) Is it necessary? The fault of “idle speech” is speaking without purpose. It’s that moment when you’re waiting for the elevator and stand- ing awkwardly next to someone and you kind of want to bullshit a little. You’re speaking to fill the space, as opposed to offering anything valuable. The term “valuable” can be somewhat subjective. One way we talk about this notion at the Institute for Compassion- ate Leadership is that what we say should move the work forward. That could mean raising awareness of important issues, connecting with friends, or sharing what matters most to us. As with so many of the Buddhist teachings, we need to reflect on what this term means for us person- ally. If we decide that what we are saying is not really necessary, put a pin in it. Being silent and offering space can actually be a valuable form of communication. 3) Is it kind? Even if something is true and necessary, that doesn’t mean it’s always going to be kind. Before you engage someone in a conversation you can ask yourself, “Will saying what I need to say ultimately help or hurt this person? ” If you believe it will be helpful to the other person, even if it’s not sugary and sweet, you ought to share your mind. If you are saying something that is destructive and is not based in helping another person, zip it. Remember what your mother used to say: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I should clarify, though: there is a dis- tinction between being nice and being kind. Someone can be nice all the time, but not necessarily helpful to a situation. They may just be inflating someone’s ego or ignoring what’s going on. Kind often looks tough. Kind can, in fact, be cut- ting. Someone locked in a bad relation- ship, for example, may not want to hear that they need to get out of it, but saying that could be the kindest thing for them in the long term. 4) Is this the right time to say it? Not too long ago I boarded a cross- country flight. Seated in front of me was a couple in their mid-twenties. As soon and he brought up some advice his grandmother passed on to him: “Making one hundred different mistakes is progressive. Making one hundred of the same mistake is regressive.” In other words, if you make a mistake and acciden- tally gossip, or tell a white lie that comes back to bite you, learn from that experience. That is a valid train- ing mechanism. However, if you continue to gossip and lie and learn nothing from the harm you are creating, you are backsliding on your spiritual path. When making mistakes, the most important thing is to remember to be gentle with yourself. If you beat yourself up every time you say an unflattering word about a coworker, you are going to make yourself miserable. It is far better to acknowledge your mis- take, vow to try not to repeat it, and maybe apolo- gize or buy that person a cup of coffee sometime. From The Buddha Walks Into the Office, published by Shambhala Publications. OOPS, I SAID THE WRONG THING Forgive yourself for your faux pas, counsels Lodro Rinzler. You can learn from mistakes. THE FOURTH PRECEPT, the precept of mindful speech, is a ground for training. There will be times when you fail. During a presentation, you slip in an awkward comment that places blame on a coworker. Out to lunch with a friend, you let slip that you think Julie in accounting is having an affair. You may give up on listening to others or fire off your mouth. Mistakes along the path are helpful. They are opportunities to reflect on the qualities that we long to cultivate, and to remember that it is only through practice that we create perfection. We cannot give up on mindful speech just because we make a mistake now and again. The precepts are not fast and sturdy rules whereby you break one and are banished from Buddhism forever. Instead, they are guideposts for cultivating the aspects of ourselves that we long to cultivate. They are what we make of them, and part of that is recognizing that we mess up and reconciling that with our experience. At Reciprocity Foundation, a homeless aid organi- zation in New York City, I was once talking with a homeless youth about this idea of making mistakes, as the plane took off, the man turned to his girlfriend and whispered what I can only imagine was a confession of something bad, because she then hit him, cried, and screamed at him for the next several hours. Clearly, whatever that gentleman had to say was not offered at the right time. Even if you have the most important, kindest, truest thing to tell someone, you have to make sure the timing is right. If someone is running out the door or swamped with work, they may not be able to hear what you have to say. Just because you’re excited to get the conversation over with doesn’t mean that it’s the best time to do it. You can even ask the other person, “Do you have a few minutes to talk about something that’s on my mind?” Even if they don’t right then, at least they are aware that they need to create that time. When you ask yourself these four sim- ple questions before you say something, you shift your own speech and allow oth- ers the opportunity to meet you in a new form of communication, one based in mindfulness and compassion. ♦ YUANTTING/ISTOCK/THINKSTOCK SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2015 22 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE