Speak the best (DW#603)

And say to My servants (that) they speak that which is best[17:53]

This verse from Sura Bani Israel lays out the general and foundational principle for speech in Islam: Speak that which is Ahsan(beautiful, excellent, kind)

That which is the best encapsulates all rules and principles of good communication. The famous saying (which has been attributed to many different sages and masters over the years) comes to mind:

Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates:

At the first gate, ask yourself "Is is true?"
At the second gate ask, "Is it necessary?"
At the third gate ask, "Is it kind?"

This saying, although clichéd, has the wisdom to help us pause and become conscious of our words. Because talking is so natural we are often unaware of the power of our spoken words, our speech can sometimes run away from our mouths before we have had a chance to engage our brains.

So let us explore these three gates:

Is It True?

Few of us would ever admit to lying intentionally. But how often do we pause to check the veracity of what we are expressing with our tongues? Very often we repeat (and forward) things without checking their authenticity. We may unconsciously exaggerate, gossip, spread rumours – often by being carried away by the company around us.

At other times, we may deceive intentionally, to escape getting into trouble (in the short run) with loved ones or with those in authority. We may not realize that a lie told to deceive impacts our relationships, our trustworthiness and certainly our spiritual progress.

So before we speak, lets ask ourselves

Is this true?
And if it’s not, why am I saying it? What am I really trying to communicate by stretching the truth? How will this lie impact my relationship with God, with others? How will telling this lie impact my worth and self esteem for myself?

Is this Necessary?
Is it really necessary to say all that we do in the form of complaining, negative comments and general whining? What does it do except bring the morale down of those around us?

When we tell off people or remind them of how they have failed or done wrong, what is the purpose of that except to remind them, "I told you so?" And does that really improve our relationships?

As my children frequently reminded me while they were growing up and I said my version of "I told you so", "Mama, that is literally the least helpful thing to say right now".

So at this gate, let us ask ourselves:

Is this necessary? Is it necessary right now? Are these exact words right for the message I want to communicate? Is this the best way to say this?

Is this Kind?
Even if words are true and necessary (such as giving feedback for unwanted behaviour), we still say them in the kindest possible way. As it is said, when in doubt, choose kindness.

Being kind in your speech means that you take the feelings of the listener into account and the assess the impact of your words on them.

It does NOT mean that you do not have difficult conversations or not hold people accountable for poor behaviour. In fact, sometimes the kindest thing you can do for another is to offer them the gift of feedback and a chance for correction.

It does mean that you do so in the most compassionate way possible.

Does this seem like it would really slow down our speech? Yes? Good! That is exactly the point. Wise speech means that we reduce the quantity and improve the quality of our communication.

And sometimes it means that we remain silent if cannot improve upon the silence!

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