How do we tell the truth when the truth needs telling? There are many lists in Buddhism. Some of them are incredibly helpful; some of them are a little bit more difficult to discern in terms of applying them during a difficult moment or in the heat of a life situation. I find that my life is increasingly about communication – listening and speaking. When I’m trying to figure out if it is necessary to express something to someone, the following simple framework is one of the most helpful lists I’ve ever discovered. It’s called the four gates of skillful speech. Systematically taking a moment to actually ask myself these four questions before I say what I have to say has been incredibly helpful. Do it the next time you’re thinking of sending that text message.
1. Is what I have to say true? This is the basic question, of course. Are we actually saying something that is accurate? Also, are we taking responsibility for our own subjective experience, rather than reporting what we’ve experienced as absolute truth? But this question is only the beginning.
2. Is what I have to say necessary? Are you the right person to share what you have to say? Would it be better coming from another person? Is it necessary that it be expressed at all?
3. Is what I am saying kind? Twisting the knife may feel good for a moment, but only because it is what we are used to doing. When we stop trying to hurt the other person with the truth, our expression becomes much more effective, and we also realize we don’t have to bludgeon someone to get them to see where we are coming from.
4. Is it the right time? Timing is everything. So is the medium and method. If you go off on someone via email, you’re probably going to experience the reverberations of your bad timing. Give it space, then pick up the phone or see them in person.