Since when did “saying what’s on your mind,” no matter what, become an admirable quality? While freedom of speech is a constitutional right, the ability to edit what you say, before you say it, is a personal responsibility. This is a relationship skill that will serve you whether you are talking to your parents, children, lover, boss, employees, clients, neighbors or the rest of the world.
We have a responsibility to realize the power of our words and be mindful of their trajectory. We have a responsibility to pay attention to how our words may land on the hearts of others. We have a responsibility to be aware of the potential consequences of our words and use them as wisely as possible.
Words can cast a spell on others. We can woo them, or we can harm them. We can call on others to make a difference or start a fight. We can soothe a soul or stab a heart with our words. In fact, wounds from sticks and stones will heal, but wounds from words fester, haunt, and can last long into the future.
How someone receives our words, or translates them into a different meaning is not in our control. However, consciously aligning our words, thoughts, and actions with our values and our desired outcome is in our control. As Don Miguel Ruiz pointed out in The Four Agreements, “Be impeccable with your word,” is an essential skill for right livelihood and personal freedom.
When I was on a competition outrigger canoe team in my 20’s, the coach gave me some of the best advice for life I’ve ever gotten. He explained, “You want to move your body in the direction you want the canoe to go.” Simple as that sounds, he demonstrated how people tend to move their bodies side to side, which puts energy in an opposing direction and literally “rocks the boat.” Now I find myself using that as a metaphor for creating healthy relationships with others and with ourselves. We simply want to move in the direction we want our relationships to go, the direction we want our lives to go, aiming for the results we want.
I often hear couples say they want to create a healthier, more harmonious relationship, but say or think mean and judgmental things about their partners. This is an example of the action steps being out of alignment with the goal—rocking the boat, so to speak.
We have been raised with the suggestion that “honesty is the best policy,” but is it always? We all think a lot of things that probably should not even be thought, much less said. When we “speak our minds” and say whatever pops into our heads, it hasn’t gone through the “purpose and truth test.” While it may be honest to say what you think, your opinion is not the truth. Your opinion may not be purposeful to anyone else and it may be completely inaccurate. When you speak your mind without forethought, you back yourself into a corner that does not allow you the freedom to easily retract or change your mind. On second thought, you may wish you hadn’t uttered your first.
Before saying what you think is the truth, I invite you to question, “Do I know this thought is true?” and “Is there purpose to sharing this?” If you still want to share it, own it by saying, “My opinion is….” This gives you the freedom to change your mind if new evidence is revealed. It also gives others the freedom to have a different opinion.
Remember, too, that consciously or unconsciously we teach with our words. Our children are watching us. When we simply say what is on our minds without any editing for kindness, truth, compassion, purpose or clarity, we teach them that inflicting their words on others without forethought is acceptable behavior, too.
My opinion is that rather than unconsciously speaking our minds, we should reinforce responsible communication as an admirable quality and imperative relationship skill.