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Insights: transforming a bit at a time

Insights…by Fran Sharp

Right on the cusp of our February theme of Love and our March theme of Transformation, Rev. Marjorie preached a sermon including the following test for wise speech. Before you speak (and I add, especially about another person) ask yourself, Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? These are called the Three Gates of Speech.

This has been attributed to many authors including Rumi, poet Beth Day (1800s), and the Buddha, and has been widely used for centuries. Many have tinkered and added a fourth question to this group, such as–is it beneficial, is this the right time, does it improve upon silence? I would add “would you be fine with the person you are speaking about hearing this conversation?”

As I ponder Transformation, our theme of the month for March, I can say that this “test of speech”–Buddha would have said “right speech”–from Rev. Marjorie’s sermon, has shown promise of being transformative for me. I have thought about it many times each day since, and caught myself not quite hitting the mark. Transformations come in packages big and small. Wouldn’t it be outstanding if a minister preached and proclaimed and prophesied and it resulted in listeners going forth and transforming the world in major ways—bringing about world peace, ending hunger, violence and inequality, and restoring our planet to health? I think change happens in more subtle gradual ways. A pebble in the pond creates a ripple. A pond-change occurs rather than a sea-change.

Just imagine if each of us edited our speech as proscribed above. We would catch ourselves and stop before saying half-truths, or “feeling truths” like the child at the playground who says “Megan hit me” when truthfully Megan said she didn’t want to be friends, and that felt just like being hit. We all express feeling truths—slight adjustments of factuality in favor of making a case for the way we experience a situation.

We would practice “kindness as our religion” (the Dalai Lama) and speak as kindly to others as we wish to be spoken to (and of). And, the big challenge, for me anyway, would be speaking only what’s necessary and skipping the rest. What would I do with all that extra time? Hmmm. I could become a more active listener, really focusing without judgment on what my conversation partner was saying…not waiting for my chance to rebut or tell a story about myself or spending the time thinking of what I need at the grocery store. I could really listen.

A synonym of transform is exchange. A transformation of speaking wisely (instead of carelessly or unconsciously) would mean we were exchanging one thing for another. What would we be gaining and what would we be giving up? Sorry–no answer here. Each must look within. Is it worth the cost of change and growth? It would transform our world a little at a time.