At breakfast yesterday morning, my dear friend - who is in a Twelve-Step program - explained that he'd begun working on the 8th Step. This requires that he make a list of all the persons in his life that he's harmed, and then make amends to everyone on the list. As we discussed each of our lives and past regrets, it became evident to me that the majority of all our harmfulness to others occurs due to unkind, thoughtless, or angry speech. Certainly some people have difficulty with violent behavior or poor impulse control, but for the majority of us, it's our words, not our actions, that are careless, reactive, and occasionally, dangerous.
We rely upon spoken and written language to communicate with every other human. From the moment we awaken, we use our words to get what we need and want, to connect and understand, to be understood, to love, help, encourage, and to get things done. Speaking is such second nature that I rarely consider that I'm even doing it (can't remember saying, "I'm about to speak now") not to mention what I'm about to say or my intention for those hearing it. As a result, I sometimes say something thoughtless or impatient or downright rude.
Cultivating mindfulness teaches us to slow down just a little so that we don't have to just react and say something without thinking. Authentic "free speech" results from choice; we can consider what we'd like to express and how we'd like to express it. In the Abhaya Sutta, the Buddha explains to Prince Abhaya that there are only six kinds of speech, and how they should be used:
1. True, beneficial, and pleasing to others. This speech the Buddha used on many occasions.
2. True, beneficial, but not pleasing to others. This speech the Buddha used whenever it was appropriate and correct.
3. True, not beneficial, but pleasing to others. This speech the Buddha did not use.
4. True, not beneficial, and not pleasing to others. This speech the Buddha did not use.
5. False, not beneficial, but pleasing to others. This speech the Buddha did not use.
6. False, not beneficial, and not pleasing to others. This speech the Buddha did not use. Why is that? Because the Buddha has compassion for living beings.