Wise speech is a foundational piece in our recovery, particularly as we work to mend our relationships with others and ourselves. It requires that we make a conscious effort to shift our perceptions about what we want to say versus what we need to say. As we begin to shift toward healthier, and more mindful communication, we create opportunities for healthier and more productive relationships with others and with ourselves.
We may find ourselves in direct contact with a difficult person–perhaps someone who has been known to trigger your anxiety or propel you into a state of dysregulation. But you’re tired of that rollercoaster ride of emotional uncertainty. You want change.
I once heard someone say, “Words are bullets.” It made me pause. I remember being stunned by the deep truth in that statement and it has stuck with me ever since. In a way, it was the tipping point for my own work around wise speech. The practice of being wise with my words started with me recognizing the need to pause before saying anything and the reality that just because someone else is using harsh language doesn’t mean I have to as well. I use the following phrases now when I find myself in a difficult situation, perhaps one that is heated or potentially triggering. Try asking yourself the following as well:
Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?
- Is it true?Be honest. Is what you want to say true and honest?
- Is it necessary? While something may be true, do you really need to say it? Out loud? Will it positively impact someone’s life? Or will it ultimately create harm?
- Is it kind? This is the icing on the cake. If something is true, and perhaps necessary, but its underpinnings are mean, omit it. Seriously, just don’t say it.
In the 12-step model, particularly in step 10, we are asked to continue to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admit it. This step asks us to investigate our actions and remedy them appropriately and immediately to ensure that we haven’t caused harm, or increased someone’s suffering based on our negative and often selfish actions. This inventory process encourages our accountability: when we are honest in our inventories, we stay honest within our communities. In the Refuge Recovery model, the practice of wise speech asks that we abstain from lying, divisive or malicious speech, gossiping, and abusive or hateful speech–period. In other words, practitioners are encouraged to work on this behavior as a daily part of their recovery practice. It takes the practice of inventory further, and raises our consciousness around our own behavior.
Simply put: If it’s not nice, don’t say it.
Practicing wise speech also applies to the way we speak to ourselves. You know, the idle internal chatter that tells us we aren’t good enough. Think of it this way, if we spoke to others the way we speak to ourselves, we wouldn’t have any friends. Some examples of negative self-talk include telling yourself:
- I’m not good enough.
- Why bother, I’ll fail anyway.
- No one cares.
- I’m fat.
- I’m a waste of space.
- I’m not pretty enough.
- I’m not smart enough.
- I am not good enough.
- No one likes me.
The list goes on and the damage this commentary elicits is great. The reality is, these thoughts aren’t truth; they are a manifestation of a skewed perception of one’s self. The work here is to begin to shift those negative perceptions toward a more positive refrain. We have to have the courage to begin to unravel the root causes that created this commentary in the first place. The “old tapes” of abuse arise when we are under duress, stress, or lack of sleep. We can then look at this as an opportunity to care for ourselves in a way that may feel foreign so we can shift the paradigm of negative self-talk toward positive and supportive self-care. The phrases, “Is it True, Is it Necessary? Is it Kind?” are relevant here too. I also like to encourage the simpler version of these questions,: is it helpful or harmful. I find that this is a phrase easy to access for adolescents and kids.
The practice of wise speech is two-fold: we have to speak kindly to ourselves and treat ourselves the way we want to be treated; we have to be mindful of the way in which we speak to others. If we strive for perfection, we will fail. The goal here is to do your best. This is really about creating a heightened awareness, giving life to that 10th step and engaging in a tangible mindfulness practice. The more you are aware and conscious of your actions, the more likely you are to change. And remember, no one is perfect. We are all a work in progress. The goal is “progress, not perfection.”