I’ve been thinking lately about kindly speech and making a more conscious effort to put it into practice, sometimes by thinking “what would be the kindest thing to say now?”. Rev. Master Mugo posted a quote from the Pali Cannon about right speech on Jade Mountains a few weeks ago: To Speak as Buddha Taught . One of the lines says “Abandoning harsh speech, he refrains from it.”
When we use harsh speech or raise our voices we stir up fear and anxiety, stress, defensiveness and all sorts of painful emotions in others. Speaking in an off-hand or thoughtless way can have the same effect. If we truly wish not to cause harm, then such speech is certainly to be abandoned. I also remember Rev. Master Daizui, a former head of our Order, saying (and I think he was quoting the Buddha) that if a person is disposed to hear you, they will hear you if you speak in a kindly manner; if they cannot/will not hear you when you speak kindly to them they will not hear you any better if you shout at them.
To speak kindly to someone is to treat them with respect and dignity. There are times when we need to say something to someone about the effect of their behaviour, and if we do this as kindly as possible, as free as we can be from any wish to cause upset to the other, then our words are much more likely to be taken to heart, and we will not cause suffering to ourselves by regret for what we said.
And it helps to remember, when we are the recipient of harsh words, that the person speaking them is probably in pain, mental or physical. Such a reflection may help us to realise that it is not all about us and to respond more kindly than we might have. I remember an example where someone was, shall we say, expressing a little annoyance towards me. I knew she was having a difficult time and so I was able not to take it personally and responded with sympathy and offers of help and all her anger dropped away. (I’m not always able to be so saintly!)
The following words are from Shushogi, translated by Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett in her book Zen is Eternal Life:
To behold all things with the eye of compassion and to speak kindly to them, is the meaning of tenderness. If one would understand tenderness, one must speak to others whilst thinking that one loves all living things as if they were one’s own children. By praising those who exhibit virtue, and feeling sorry for those who do not, our enemies become our friends and they who are our friends have their friendship strengthened: this is all through the power of tenderness. Whenever one speaks kindly to another his face brightens and his heart is warmed; if a kind word be spoken in his absence, the impression will be a deep one: tenderness can have a revolutionary impact upon the mind of man.