Thursday, April 12, 2012

in stillness

"Before you speak, ask yourself: 
Is it kind, 
is it true, 
is it necessary, 
does it improve upon the silence?" 

Shirdi Sai Baba

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. 
I've had this quote rattling around in my head for the past few days. A quick Google search has it attributed to the yoga guru I've named above, Buddha, Socrates, the Quakers, and some mid-century American 'philosopher.' 

I've wanted to post it as a Facebook status followed by my own less placid addition, "If not, how about you STFU?" - partly out of ironic humour, and partly to see if people would actually maybe think about what they are saying. And maybe partly to see if anyone is even out there. 

I am well aware that mostly this quote sticks with me because it is something I need to pay more attention to. I often speak unkindly of others - mostly behind their backs. People watching is both a hobby and sometimes a sport for me, best shared with someone equally 'witty' - and witty rarely means kind.

I'm also not all that careful about checking if what I say is true or just something I've heard. Even more so, I'm likely to exaggerate something that is essentially true - to reinforce the relationship between two things, to dramatize the consequences. To maintain just enough truth to make it plausible, or plausibly deniable. I don't lie, but is what I say fully 'true'? Not as often as I'd like. And, I'm a known gossip - much less so than I was five years ago, but that itch is still there - I want to be the one who knows a secret, and the one who shares it. I want the power to shock, surprise, or gross out someone. It's the downside of being powerful with words, I think. 

I think often about those first two qualities in my speaking - is it true and is it kind? They now guide me more than they have previously. But I rarely consider if something is necessary. If my speaking actually 'improves upon the silence.' 

It's a high standard; there are few things more pure than a comfortable silence. There's an almost-holy intimacy that develops when you are fully yourself with someone, and they are fully themselves, and yet nothing needs to be said. It's rare - we are, culturally, uncomfortable with silence. I don't mean holding back. I've certainly got a long tradition with that as well, and it is the polar opposite of intimate silence- it impedes connection and isolates. Real silence lets something else emerge. 

I'm reminded also of Desiderata by Max Ehrmann ... more things to ponder, in the silence. 

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.

Take kindly to the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann c.1920


  1. I'm like that too -- unfortunately, talking about others can be good sport; it makes for rivetting conversation, much more than does praise. Kind of lke in writing; where there is no tension and no conflict, not very interesting. Of course, neither does it make for be virtuous.

    1. Hi Sandra - I think my new goal is balance ... I do enjoy the 'fun' of a spicy conversation, but there are times I know I've crossed a line ... that stuff belongs in my novel. ;-)

  2. Honest post. It's good to be reminded of these things. We can all strive to be better, more compassionate. And it was great to re-read the Desiderata, its been a while.

    1. Isn't the Dedisderata lovely - funny how these things pop up just about when needed. :)

  3. Loved this post! We should all follow this! Good reminder!

    1. Thanks, Yvonne - I'm glad you enjoyed it!


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