Words are powerful. Advertisers and politicians use them them to massage perception and change people’s behaviour. Hypnotists use them to move us into trance states and break habits we’ve had for years, sometimes in a matter of minutes. Psychotherapists use language to help us heal from painful experiences and move our lives forward.
In Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Trilogy, magic is done by knowing the ‘real names’ of things. When you know something’s real name, you have power over it.
These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.
In Buddhism, ‘right’ or ‘perfect’ speech (both are reasonable translations of ‘samma vaca‘) is part of the Noble Eightfold Path. The path to awakening. Speech is a key part of life. It’s one of the most important ways we connect with the world. So it’s unsurprising that it needs to be part of our transformation if we’re to become Buddhas.
In the texts, right speech is speech that is
- about the Dhamma (reality)
It doesn’t take much working out to realise that sometimes these are in conflict! Does my bum look big in this? Er….
However, on top of this, there’s been some amazing work done by Richard Bandler and others, around unpacking the structures in language and understanding how language and perception are intimately related.
They call it neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and I’m not even going to start going into it here. It’s a big and complicated (but fascinating) area. All I want to say is, start noticing how you speak about things. And notice how that makes you feel.
“How you doing?” Is the answer:
A: Mustn’t grumble
B: Could be worse I suppose
When you spill a drink on the carpet is it:
A: A catastrophe! Quick! Get a cloth!!!!
B: Ah man, this stuff always happens to me. I think the universe hates me.
C: Oh well, these things happen. Hey, who want ice cream?
By choosing our speech wisely, we can change how we engage with our own experience, and how we impact the perception of others. This is particularly important with our kids. But grown ups have feelings too.
Since I’m a writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about words, language, structure and communication. So I’ll write more about this in the future. If you’d like to stay updated, click the follow button (bottom right) and get posts delivered to your inbox.