One of the things I am practicing in my life is Speaking Up for myself. Having a Voice, if you will. My pattern began with not knowing My Voice mattered. Then, when I discovered it did (mind you, this step took a year or 20), it became about how to honor what I was thinking and feeling. The key was how to honor it without the emotions that carried those thoughts and feelings overwhelming what I wanted to express. Emotions are like spices to me: Salt is great. Sprinkling it on fresh tomatoes is yummy. But dumping on the entire contents of the salt shaker ruins the tomatoes (unless you’re my dad — he’d pour salt on ice cream) . And pouring salt on ice cream is just gross (sorry, pops). Anyway, you see my point, right?: You know when, on what, and how much salt to use; that is, if you are choosing to use any at all. Knowing how to use your Voice is a really important tool. And the 4 Gates of Speech can help. We’ll get to those. Let’s start with an example:
Standing in a line and Clueless (or Arrogant) Guy cuts in front of me.
What I WANT to say: “Hey jerkface, get in line.”
Why it’s not so effective: 1) If he is Clueless and not Arrogant, then that implies an honest mistake. (I find these are the majority of misunderstandings.) My yelling at him makes me look (and let’s face it — act) like a brat. 2) The goal of communication is generally to feel heard and understood. If I am yelling at someone, attacking, or even just being snotty, the likelihood of that person hearing me goes down acutely and thus — so does my goal.
For Speaking Up to have an impact, I have to express myself in a way someone is able to hear. Of course, there are no guarantees, and so there is always the chance that the Guy is, in fact, a jerk and won’t hear me anyway (though I really like to give people the benefit of the doubt — I’m not real big on assuming “jerkdom”); if that appears true, however, I would still rather have taken the high road and practiced my people-communication-expression skills. Also, in the example above I am talking about someone whom I don’t know well, so of course I am less invested. But what about when I am dealing with my best friend, respected colleague or partner-in-crime? We have chances to work on how we react to the world, and the people in it, all over the place! The question is whether or not we decide to take up the task of NOTICING not only how “they” are in the world, but how WE are in the world. Fighting is pretty hard to do when only one person is doing it.
Alright, alright…I’ve gone on long enough and I know you are anxiously awaiting the 4 Gates. That is, if you’re still reading. The 4 Gates are really, really simple. And really effective. I learned them from studying Yoga, and frankly, I feel strongly that THESE are some of the skills we ought to be teaching in schools and empowering families to become familiar with — which reminds me! I had a dream last night explaining to a mass of people that I had never really used math to a large degree. Basics, sure. But all the rest? Just not for me. On the other hand, who does not use communication?! We all use it. Most of us quite poorly, unfortunately. Ok. The 4 Gates of Speech:
1. Is it necessary?
2. Is it truthful?
3. Is it the right time?
4. Can it be said in a kind way?
Simple, right? The process is equally easy: If you answer “no” to any of the above questions, keep quiet.
Now, if you know me or have read my other blogs, you know that I am a big believer in expressing yourself, hey-hey-hey. I think it is unhealthy to stuff feelings down or dismiss them away. Toxic, in fact. I never recommend that, and I want that to be clear. In my experience, feelings and emotions always need both acknowledgement and expression of some sort. The expression may not always come in the form of Speaking Up. Sometimes, they come out by venting to a good pal, or going on a long walk, or in my case, writing copious amounts of poetry, or occasionally screaming out loud in my car. You may find, as I have, that getting really great at this skill involves a lot of discernment. Figuring out when the time is right, for example, can be a challenge. I’m still working on this aspect, but I have noticed that with practice, it is — like anything we work at — getting easier, better, more fluid.
So, I offer the 4 Gates to you because they have been helpful for me. Will you take on the task of becoming aware of your reactions, your speech? What a world this would be…
Much Love to You.