Speaking Up For Change (and Health): Speak Your Mind, Mind Your Speech


A man joins a religious order and takes a vow of silence. According to the rules of the monastery, he is allowed to speak two words per year.

After the first year the head Monk calls him in for a meeting and asks for his two words.

He replies … “Bed hard.”

After his second year the head Monk asks him again for his two words for the year.

He replies … “Food stinks.”

After the third year the head Monk asks him his two words for the year.

He replies … “I quit.”

The Head Monk says … “Thank goodness. You’ve done nothing but complain from the minute you arrived here!”

Like the character in the story, you have limited words to speak in your lifetime. Are you going to use them to complain or to spread positive energy? You have a finite number of breaths to take and limited time and energy. To quote Mary Oliver, “Tell me- what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Do you want to be remembered as someone who saw fault in everything or as someone who looked for opportunities to encourage and build up?

It’s sometimes a challenge to stay positive, especially at a time when you see so much inequity and suffering in the world. Do you speak up and call people and systems to account for their dysfunction, or do you bite your tongue on the basis that everything happens as it needs to happen, and in good time?

Even a few words of criticism can be deafening like a slow drip from a clogged gutter. The sound of silence can also be deafening when you feel that you have lost your own voice and no one around you is speaking up. As Simon and Garfunkel sang many years ago, “Silence like a cancer grows.”

Occupy Wallstreet

One of the most enduring, striking images to come out of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement is the man with the dollar bill taped over his mouth. The American dream where everyone has equal access to resources has turned into a nightmare where you scream for help because it’s all gone so horribly wrong but no sound comes out of your mouth. You feel silenced by a system that offers tax breaks for millionaires, enables corporate greed and turns the gap between rich and poor into a full scale chasm.

As MLK said, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”

This is most certainly a time to speak up, confidently and clearly. Speak up because things are upside down and your carefully chosen words could help to put them right way up for you and others. Speak up, but do it mindfully, aware that your words have the power of both life AND destruction. Speaking up is a double edged sword, and the OWS movement does well to remember both the power of speaking up and the responsibility. The words you use when you speak are just as important as the choice to speak up. Choose words that come from your core values, and words that empower others to live their highest values. Speak your mind, and mind your speech.

Via Soul Seeds, see entire blog post with more tips on non-harming communications  by Ian Lawton, Speaking Up For Change.

I share the above post with great respect for Ian’s words. I discovered it in good time as I celebrate Lent, and one of the acts I have decided to do, is to complain less. How I wrote it was actually, “No complaining unless necessary.” At first this was my way of allowing myself some wiggle room, when I was going over my list yesterday I had to smile at my husband when I added these qualifying words. However, the more I thought about why I stated it that way, I understood that it was because I didn’t want the idea of not complaining to mean simply silencing myself which would not be good for my well-being–as mentioned above, “Silence like cancer grows.”

With that said, I am very happy Ian Lawton shared some of Marshall Rosenberg’s simple guidelines to compassionate, non-harming, healthy communication to keep me honest in my endeavor.

Four steps to express yourself non-violently

  1. Observing– State what you observe, from your own perspective, and without judgment.
  2. Feeling– Explain how what you observe makes you feel without blame.
  3. Needs– Explain what is at stake for you and others you care about.
  4. Request– Ask for specific, concrete, changes.

I add a preliminary step that I find necessary to allow the other steps to follow and that is, Stop, let it all out uncensored (in private), and self-assess: While we all tend to move quickly in fast-paced society, try waiting before you speak. Stop and ask yourself what is it that is really bothering you? Write it down if it helps. Do not censor yourself, blame all you want, sometimes you need to let it out to let it go. But then do not forget to evaluate, self-assess, remove the blame and your ego, and get to the core of the matter. Listen to your mind, heart, your gut, and your soul before you speak out. If it is really serious, talk to a mentor or an elder about your observations. I find when I complete this first step, I am well on my way to practicing mindful communications.

3 responses »

  1. This is a beautiful (re)post with some enduring themes for all of us. I will definitely think more on what to focus on during Lent, and I wish you the best in your journey to reduce complaining! Of course, INJUSTICE should always be spoken, shouted aloud and I’m sure you will see the line between the two. Thanks for checking my blog and yes I’d love to connect on doula and otherwise health and wellness issues. PS small world, seems we have a friend in common in Minnesota…

    • Hi Kate! Thanks for your message. So happy you want to subscribe. In the right hand corner of the blog there should be a place you can add your email. If you want I can do this for you as well. Keep me posted if you have any more troubles! Looking forward to having you part of our community!

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