The very few times I mention discipline or moral restraint in conversation, the question of freedom of speech springs up in the minds of my friends and family. I am quick to remind them that first and foremost, civil liberties, individual freedom, and the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution are important and should not be infringed upon.
I value the right of US residents to express themselves in any manner they wish, as long as they do not intrude on the hard-won rights and privileges of others and me. In other words, “Live and let live.”
Another concern comes up when the question of verbal restraint is discussed, is that I may seem to be sanctimonious or self-righteous. I make a conscious effort not to behave this way, but if others judge me as such, there isn’t much I can do or say to alter their opinions.
In dealing with the general public, I have no qualms dealing with people of all persuasions who harbor various beliefs and opinions. Variety makes the world go around. In the same heartbeat, I reserve the right to speak and act in ways that promote harmony and personal growth. I also have the right to choose with whom I associate and befriend.
Once we get past the disclaimers, acquaintances and new friends can relax in our discussions about moral issues. In a sense, the use of these disclaimers is an important aspect of the exercise of personal verbal restraint.
As a definition, my use of “verbal” includes not only what comes out of our vocal chords. It includes the use of language in other ways, like face and body language plus written communication such as literature, emails, and this blog.
Verbal restraint means that a person does not intentionally hurt the feelings of others nor arouse their anger and fear. The use of confusion and deception is off the table. The practice of uttering crude epithets and cursing is one to avoid. Furthermore, one limits the amount of idle chit-chat and gossip one engages in. Good verbal practice should enhance interpersonal relationships not degrade them.
By no means do my efforts to practice verbal restraint mean that I idealize Caspar Milquetoast. Timidity is an easy way out. Certain aspects of my human nature are, at present, controversial in many social circles. So are my opinions about spiritual and political matters. I do my best to tactfully discuss them. Don’t we all differ in our views and opinions anyway?
One way of looking at verbal restraint is comparing it to assertiveness and contrasting it with aggressiveness. Assertiveness gets the point across without being “in your face” in a threatening or crude manner. Assertiveness tends to open the avenues of communication, while aggressiveness causes people to close down in self-defense.
Do I want to get a helpful point across to someone or do I merely desire to make a jab or cheap shot at somebody? Talking or writing truthfully, with tact and skill are at the heart of verbal restraint. In my opinion, verbal restraint is communicating with kindness. That is kindness in the conventional way society judges kindness, not in some obscure, arcane definition of kindness.
This means paying attention to the content and intention of our communications. This is one way of practicing mindfulness. While formulating a response or statement, we pay attention to the intention behind our message. Will it harm anyone or will it enhance our relationship? Here is where we exercise the balance of honesty and compassion.
Verbal restraint can be easily forgotten in our contemporary social environment of strong opinions and oftentimes crude ways of expressing them. Here we witness the influence of words upon action. There is an overabundance of communication filled with deception and hatred. Given this level of negativity in verbal expression, it’s no wonder we see it reflected in acrimony, disharmony, physical violence, and terrorism.
Many people believe that hateful, sharp, crude words are less harmful than actual violence. This is not the case. Thoughts, words and action work in concert and support each other. We have the common example of yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre. When someone disparages or condemns one group of people or another in a crowd, on the Internet, or other mass media it is a subtle or not so subtle incitement of violence.
When peaceful speech is invoked during times of crisis or difficulties, words, thoughts and actions also work in concert and support one another. Verbal restraint enables a more calm, rational approach to matters of disagreement and other social situations.
On a personal level, verbal restraint leads to enhanced mental learning and personal spiritual practice. When we truthfully, compassionately communicate with ourselves in our heads, we better enable understanding of our own natures. This understanding and insight will help us live more effective, harmonious personal lives. In turn, this will help us get along better and happier with other people.
To practice verbal restraint is really quite simple. It entails abstention from deceptive, false statements–don’t lie. Good communication does not include slander or libel–it does not foster emnity nor disharmony. Verbal restraint means that one speakes honestly and truthfully in such a way that promotes harmony. It reduces fear and anger. Good verbal usage causes beneficial, rational, constructive action.
It helps to think first and communicate second. Will what I say be beneficial and open the door to friendship? Does what I have to say cause anger and slam the door to negotiation? Will what I say cause more harm and little, if any, good? Is what I have to verbalize just more ammunition in a war of words, or is it an honest, kind expression of openess and empathy? Do I just want to get a rise out of you or do I want to find a way to help us live or lives on a higher level?
I hope this post didn’t come off as sanctimonious, unrestrained soapbox preaching.