(Hyde Park Gate image by Phil Bird)
During the elevated emotional and verbal vitriol of the American mid-term elections, this Arabian proverb came to mind —
The words of the tongue should have three gatekeepers:
Is it TRUE? Is it KIND? Is it NECESSARY?
My own personal experience with this proverb confirms radical transformation emerges from the diligent daily use of truth, kindness and necessity. In life, we get what we give out.
As personal choices, truth, kindness and necessity are deeply coloured or biased by our perceptions, that is, our interpretations of external stimuli. Our perceptions— defined as the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses — are further limited by our belief system and social conditioning. Let me give you an example. I grew up in the 60s and 70s, a time of cultural and spiritual revolution. Women pressed for a greater voice and role in defining society. In my parental home, this materialized as Sunday supper opining. My siblings and I were encouraged by our parents to speak our truth. Our opinions mattered regardless of whether they were kind or necessary. No doubt, my parents hoped we would learn to be more discerning with how and when we stated those opinions. However, it was an era of angry revolt against white male entitlement and angry competitive debates certainly arose.
Hmmm, something or lots about that last sentence echoes familiar in today’s political landscape where polarization of opinion is alive and well. At the same time, our global-local societies are increasingly made up of diverse cultures and orientations. Combine these circumstances with immigration crises from extreme geopolitical events and internet/technology availability, and you might expect even greater polarity. Surprisingly, instead of separating us from each other, we are increasingly being placed closer together. A not so small example occurred in nursery schools and kindergartens. In my lifetime, I witnessed these environments evolve from all-white to multiple ethnicity and race to mixed racial children.
Out of necessity, the visual (technology) and physical (immigration) closeness require us to better govern our individual and collective behaviour. We are still “a work in progress”, but with the addition of truth and kindness, this polarity too will pass.
Decades of evidence point toward listening and dialogue as the means to build understanding and acceptance. The less talked about, and less understood, but clearly underlying source of divisiveness on the planet is control. Who has power over whom? Who controls what resources? Again, time and experience favoured us with wisdom. Psychology, still a fairly young science, teaches that the only way another person has power over us is if we give it to them. This loss of personal power typically occurs when we fear … being wrong, looking silly, allowing chaos, not being in control, losing our jobs to immigrants, not having enough to eat/spend, etc. Hence, the operative source of all these experiences is fearful thinking.
Some years back, I committed to an experiment to eradicate fear-based thinking and decision making from my life. I used my inner awareness as a starting point. Each time I felt any form of stress or distress, I asked the following questions:
- What am I afraid of?
- Is this fear necessary — ego-related or safety-related?
- If my fear is ego-related, what can I let go of?
- Now, what can I nourish within me?
The outcomes of that experiment were beyond my own imagination. I remember wondering if I would ever reach the bottom of the pile of fears that just seemed to keep showing up. My plaintive cry of “Will this ever end?” eventually materialized into inner calm, certainty and confidence. As my layers of fear fell away, joy seeped out between the cracked veneer. Proof positive that what I thought held the bad at bay only succeeded in nullifying joy.
Everything in your life is there as a vehicle for your transformation. Use it! Ram Dass
Here is my current experiment — every time I feel pressed to voice an opinion, I ask myself, “Is my response truthful? Is it kind? Is it necessary? The outcome has been an immeasurable recouping of energy. Try it out for yourself. If your answer is “No” to any of the three questions, then opt for silence until you can answer “Yes” to all of them.