It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while I come across a little piece of wisdom that strikes a chord so deep inside me that it actually moves me. A few years ago, while dipping my toes in the teachings of Buddha, I learned about the Three Gatekeepers and how our words must pass through these three gates before crossing our lips or before pen meets paper. Not long ago and very unintentionally, my written words brought tears to someone very close to me. Since that day, I have vowed to remember the three Gatekeepers and what we must do when choosing our words…
For the words that you are about to speak to pass through the first gate, they must all be true. In order to pass through the second gate, your words must be kind. And finally, to be allowed past the third gate, your words have to be necessary.
I think perhaps the reason this hit me so hard is because I have certainly been guilty, on more than one occasion, of not thinking before I speak. My daughter calls this, ‘having no filter’. I never speak with the intention of hurting someone, but I have been known to do more talking than listening and there have been many instances where my choice of words was less than impressive. I now actually keep in mind the Gatekeepers ‘mantra’ before I speak (or write) to someone. And it isn’t enough to have your words just pass through one or two gates. They must be able to pass through all three. I think perhaps this is where we get ourselves into trouble. We may feel that our words are justified in being heard solely based on the fact that we believe them to be true. While we may believe our words to be based in fact and accuracy, is it really necessary, for example, to tell your sister that she has put on a few pounds? That statement is neither kind or necessary. I have been on the receiving end of some very harsh and ill-conceived truths that clearly did not make it past the last two gates. People like to hide behind that one word, ‘truth’. Often their perception of the truth is little more than an uninformed opinion. How wonderful our society would be if those close-minded people also came with closed mouths.
Now, perhaps not as hurtful, but still quite capable of damage, are words that are both true and kind, but maybe not necessary. This is where we have to remind ourselves that even though we may feel our words are true and kind, they may not be received that way. The person who lets these types of words slip out often has an agenda or an ulterior motive for speaking words that really are not necessary. I try to remember to ask myself before I speak, how will what I’m about to say benefit the person I’m saying them to in a positive way. If the positive can’t be found, then the words do not need to be said.
Finally, what happens when your words are necessary and true, but lack kindness? I have experienced both sides of this coin and one left me feeling like a fool for not showing more compassion when writing/speaking and the other left me hurt and even a little broken. I don’t think we need to dip our every word in chocolate and sugar coat them, but a little kindness goes a long way. No matter how filled with truth your words are or how necessary it is for someone to hear them, if they lack kindness, they will put the other person on the defensive. Of course, there will be times when we will have to tell someone something that is sad and/or difficult – so how does kindness fit into that equation. I think in that situation, kindness means that you have to choose the most compassionate words you are able to.
Whether spoken or written, words are extremely powerful and the pen is definitely mightier than the sword. Words have the power to bring happiness but also the strength to crush someone’s spirit. They can be used to comfort or to bring someone to tears. And once said, they may be forgiven, but they will never be forgotten. Words, even just a few, can bring a smile, cause hurt, destroy, create, criticize or inspire.
What did yours do today?