Choosing Words Wisely
The value of silence has long been taught by saints and mystics. Its practice has been an almost universal requirement in all efforts to gain access to the inner depths of our soul. Silence has been demanded of the seeker in almost every faith. But modern man seems to be afraid of silence. It is held in contempt by most people, as it forces them to confront their inner selves. It forces them to think. Generally, society tends to appreciate talkers more than thinkers, as ceaseless talking is often considered to be a sign of culture, intelligence and sociability. Inability in this field is apt to be condemned as dullness or a lack of manners. So, we fill our lives with meaningless talk and endless words. What is the reason for our excessive fondness for speaking? In The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran answers:
You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts; and when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart, you live in your lips, and sound is a diversion and a pastime.
As victims of continuous speech, we fall into the trap of mechanical talking and endless discussions. We don’t realize that most of our follies are follies of speech. How often a careless and unkind word can spoil our day, hurt a loved one, destroy a friendship or wreck a business deal. Without any hesitation, we blurt out the thoughts that run through our minds without realizing that control of speech is indeed the beginning of wisdom. As a result, the tongue has no bridle, no restraint. This runs entirely counter to the teachings of saints and mystics, who advocate strict control of the tongue.
What is our endless talk all about? In our daily conversations with family, friends and colleagues, we indulge in petty slander, drool over trivial social scandals, or at best criticize politicians and statesmen, writers and scientists, often without having the slightest authority on the subject we are discussing. It is because of our inflated egos and sense of superiority that we look down on others. We stress on our strengths while pin pointing the weaknesses of others. The sad reality is that people are comfortable with gossiping, character assassination, slandering and belittling others. So often we indulge in these unnecessary evils without realizing how they affect our mental and spiritual balance.
Saints and mystics point out that by slander or unnecessary criticism we attach ourselves to the very defect we criticize. This makes sense, because we attract to ourselves those qualities that we think about.
Too overburdened now is man with burdens self-imposed. Too rough and crooked is his road. Each judgment is an added burden, alike to the judge and the judged. If you would have your burdens light, refrain from judging any man.
The Book of Mirdad
Saints advise us not only to avoid indulging in slander and petty talk ourselves, but also to avoid listening to the slander of others. We become party to the slander when we give ear to it, and contradicting slander leads only to worthless disputes. Thus, when we hear people slandering others, we should try to control our own tongue, remain silent and meditate on the Lord’s name instead.
It may be human nature to pick out faults in others, but this is not the way of the spiritually-inclined. Only one who considers others to be of more value and who looks at himself as unworthy makes spiritual progress. They are truly humble and fail to see anything bad in others. In fact, they even have regard and affection for their slanderer. They believe that slanderers make them aware of their faults, and praise the slanderer’s cleansing role and call them their well-wishers.
Saints come into this world to set an example for us. They themselves avoid idle chatter. Of course, they are not always silent but all their talk is in service of the Lord. They say that much of our physical and spiritual energy is dissipated by talking and therefore advise us to speak as little as possible. Once we observe the habit of speaking less, we choose our words wisely. We automatically refrain from frivolous talk - which sometimes leads to gossiping and slandering others. Not only that, we also conserve our precious energy which can be directed towards our prime goal in life - meditation. So, silence is essential if we want to be successful in our spiritual pursuit.
With the practice of meditation, we learn to accept that everybody has his or her own set of merits and demerits. We rise above other’s shortcomings and see everyone as a child of God. If at all we are inclined to find faults in others, we should realize our failings first, and make the effort to reform ourselves. We can aim to live life with an open heart and eliminate judgemental thoughts. We can try to keep in mind that everyone is doing the best they possibly can and if they knew better, they would do better. This simple thought can help us be less critical and more appreciative of all that is. When we see the best in others, there is no room for slander. But what should we do if someone fails to see any good in us? What should we do if someone slanders and speaks ill of us? Well, it is only our critics and slanderers that help us see our weaknesses.