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Committing to saying what is good

In Words of Truth, Ostad Elahi says:

“An intention that is rooted in good will itself bear fruit: a life lived with compassion, tenderheartedness, and kindness. […] A ‘good intention,’ then, is the first requisite, meaning that if we adopt that which is good in our words, in our disposition, and in our aims, that intention itself will become our own hallowed tree that bears delectable fruits in this world and the next.”

Ostad Elahi, Words of Truth, 415, draft of the forthcoming English translation.

 

Intention as our “hallowed tree”

 

For our intention to become our own “hallowed tree”, it needs to be nurtured and that begins with words. The first stages of what Bahram Elahi calls in vivo practice, i.e. fighting against the imperious self and concretely putting into practice human virtues in everyday life and in contact with others, have to do with our words. The extraordinary thing about words is, precisely, that they are ordinary. Every minute of our lives in the most ordinary circumstances, we can do an act of humanity by choosing to speak or, on the contrary, not to speak. It can be as simple as saying hello, provided we really mean it and bring to it a warm glance or cheerful smile, and a good measure of sincere affection and care… Our words are an immediate and permanent space for spiritual practice.

The words we utter and the intentions behind them are what lends our soul its color and perfume, and are indicative of its state. We are our words. Words can wound or heal. Words can humiliate or elevate. They brag or are modest, are violent or affectionate, they discourage or encourage, complain or express gratitude, lie or tell the truth. Words can backbite or protect, induce anxiety or reassure, be invasive or be discrete… Educators, parents and teachers know it better than anyone. When their anger boils up at a child’s insolence, a decision has to be made: one option is to seek momentary relief and allow anger to burst forth, at the risk of humiliating the child and jeopardizing its future ability to learn; the other is to contain this anger and to find the firm but fair words that will ring true to the child’s reason and dignity, and direct him or her toward a path that could bring about a change in perspective or behaviour.

 

Working on our words

 

I had started working on my words. The idea was not to focus on words related to a particular emotion, or a particular attitude or flaw, but on all words. Just as a microscope is used by scientists to examine a substance and work on it, my words were going to be an instrument for self-observation and self-analysis.

I set up the following routine: every evening I would assess my interactions with people that day and the words I uttered. Of course the idea was not to spend hours doing this, nor to review every single thing I had said. With a little concentration certain interactions – the most relevant ones – would immediately come to my mind. In addition, with practice, a sort of map of my main and most recurrent daily interactions started revealing itself to me: with my spouse, such and such colleague at work, such and such friend… Little by little, I began to improve my aptitude to retrospectively evaluate the quality or the “flavour” of my words. Were they at all bitter? If yes, an imperious impulse was hidden behind them: If I took the time to reflect, I was able to perceive it.

For example: I had given a rather curt reply to a question from my wife; my tone was polite but cold, devoid of any affection. Looking back at this exchange when reviewing my day, I immediately perceived its negative flavour, as well as the negative impact it had on both of us. Looking more closely, I saw that I was really annoyed when I spoke to my wife at that moment. Why was that? Why did I bear such a grudge against her, to the point of completely forgetting for a moment the love and affection we have for each other?

I couldn’t make anything of it at first, but I decided to pay close attention, over the next days and weeks, to those instances of negative words directed at my wife, and to keep quiet as soon as I would begin to feel that familiar annoyance that could bring me to talk in such an unpleasant and curt fashion, or alternately in such a chillingly polite way. I pursued this work for several weeks, while analyzing the words I spoke, as well as my conversations in general. Little by little, I came to identify the negative impulses that were at work in such moments. I realized I had feelings of misplaced superiority toward my wife that led me, in certain situations, to get offended and develop a certain passive-aggressiveness in return—typically when she appeared to hold an opinion different from mine, refused to yield, and it turned out she was correct. Being polite by nature, I would not use openly aggressive words, but I would adopt a cool distance that, I now understand, truly hurt my wife, who for that matter would sometimes tell me she didn’t like it when I acted so distant… In such moments I would become pure ego, entirely focused on my own wounded will to power, forgetting any and all positive feelings—love, affection, gratitude, admiration…

Beyond this particular example, analyzing the words I speak has enabled me to identity other “knots” in my relationships with others. In all these situations, imperious impulses were at work as well. In job meetings for example, I had a tendency to speak more than others and to not let them get a word in, insisting on imposing my point of view which I naturally assumed was the best. Thanks to my daily assessment, I was able to stand back and examine myself from the outside. What I saw was a very petty me, stopping other people from expressing themselves, eager to have the final say, incapable of listening to others or having them speak, etc. I can only imagine how annoying it must have been for the others! Here again, a feeling of unjustified superiority was manifest in my behaviour. This diagnosis made me aware that, because of my constant bossy and directive tone, some colleagues probably no longer even dared share their point of view with me. It was a classical situation where lack of listening could lead to the non-communication of important information about problems or dysfunctional situations in the workplace.

After several weeks of this diagnostic work on negative words, as well as many efforts to try to squash this tendency, a new area of work began to appear: that of good words!

Comments from the editorial board

 

This experience suggests ways to start practicing positive speaking:

  • Setting up a routine to regularly analyze our negative words. Only through such self-examination can we hope to identify, with the help of our reason, the manifestations of the imperious self in our negative words and the specific circumstances that trigger them (in vitro practice).

  • Taking action based on this analysis. Whenever we are again in a situation where our imperious self is most likely to manifest itself through the utterance of negative words, we should counter this impulse by remaining silent or by replacing negative words with positive ones (in vivo practice).

Feel free to share your experiences and analyses!

 


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17 comments

  1. Neeky Aug 06, 2019 8:37 am 1

    I cannot believe the timing of this article. It is just as if I wrote it. If this is not miracle, then what is?
    I can’t express my gratitude enough to the author.

  2. anonymous Aug 06, 2019 6:06 pm 2

    I was living with my husband for very long time, we got married around age 23- 24, and i just want to say my husband always complained about everything I did, I always tried to do better, and since I genetically was an anxious person, I was under a lot of pressure. I loved him so much, and I always tried to do the opposite to him, for example I always encouraged him and was kind to him and never compared him to any of my friends and families husbands. I always had his back.
    But he never stopped complaining, and his actions and his words made my anxiety worst and worst every day.
    Long story short I became sick, and was unable to work (as having a job), to this day I had sever depression, panic attacks, hospitalized several times so it’s been years that I’m still on medications, doing lots of therapies and so on.

    My point is words and behaviors can destroy someone’s life (in my case physically).

    When I seriously became ill, we got divorced.
    When I look back, I always think if he was kind to me, it helped me a lot with my anxiety, and I’m sure of that.

    1. Neeky Aug 13, 2019 10:55 pm 2.1

      I am so sorry to hear about your experience. Thank you for the reminder that our words have the power to break or heal people.

  3. Lilo Aug 07, 2019 11:43 am 3

    I understand the situation in this case here in the article. I also noticed that I trigger “bad vibes” when in a conversation I am disappointed when someone doesn’t agree with me in particular when my point of view is quite eccentric and hence tightly enmeshed with my ego. I have spotted insecurity about my idea or understanding because it is contrary to usual opinions, but also pride, feeling that I am so much smarter than others…I realize that the work I need to do is to be aware of feelings of superiority. Why should I share my thoughts? Is it to show off? To stand out as special? It definitely is not to be useful or kind to others. So this is clear to me.

    On the other hand, another situation I was in today involving words, is regarding a group chat I created with some women friends to support each other in our moments of emotional and mental confusion. One person misunderstood its purpose and that really annoyed me because she kept posting picture-sayings. I knew my words would be hurtful if I told her that was not what was expected but I did it anyway. And then I canceled the group-chat.
    I am wondering how to use words positively when pointing out “mistakes” others make.
    My priority was to “correct” the situation and get rid of the annoyance as fast as possible, but I sense there is a lesson here I have not grasped yet. (Too soon for self-analysis?)

    1. LA Aug 07, 2019 6:30 pm 3.1

      Very enlightening! Many thanks for the practice. I find it inspiring and will work on it wholeheartedly.

  4. A. Aug 08, 2019 6:08 am 4

    Thank you for your experience – quite stunning indeed. I myself tend to always point out my kids’ flaws and not enough their qualities. I need to be careful at it could lead to complexes and lack of confidence.

  5. A. Aug 08, 2019 6:44 am 5

    Thank you for this detailed analysis. I also worked on improving my words. I began by working on avoiding any vulgar expressions. I am quite polite generally speaking, but I had noticed that I was more and more prone to letting myself being influenced by others. This resulted in the use of somewhat vulgar expressions or even straight out vulgar ones.

    Once this aspect had improved, I tried to work on using more affectionate words when interacting with others. I set myself a goal of working on this 3 times a day. Being quite cold with my fellow human beings, this allowed me to work on a major personality flaw.

    This article does a great job at encouraging to work negative words (other than vulgar ones) … Criticisms are also food for thought. No later than yesterday my wife told me that it was rare to hear me encourage our children and that the opposite was more true. Instead of encouraging them I always tend to identify what’s wrong. I am pessimistic. Criticisms and analysis of our words help us identify our weak points.

    Thank you for this article. It is very motivating.

  6. H.L. Aug 08, 2019 5:51 pm 6

    This article is inspiring, warming and what I needed right now…the perseverance and especially the consistency the author demonstrates in reviewing his words every day, researching his own ‘self’ is inspiring. I would like to be more consistent in my practice of reviewing my words and in general my behaviour every day. I make a lot of excuses, especially lately, about how I am tired/busy and do not have time to review tonight. But I truly now see the value in everyday consistent practice, little by little which builds overtime to a wonderfully reflective practice and in turn affects our behaviour, words, and intentions positively. From today on, I want my practice to become more consistent, more reflective and most importantly like a researcher, and this article has inspired me to do so.

  7. Pegah Aug 09, 2019 3:50 am 7

    Some steps that have been really helping me with these situations are:

    1-Forcing myself not to say / do anything in that specific moment until I have time to delve within and think about it.
    2-What lesson is in that scenario as everything that happens in our lives is for a reason. Could be my anger, pride, impatience or so many other things.
    3-How would I want someone else to correct me if I was in the same situation? That person probably didn’t notice the intention of the group message and is not doing it on purpose. By putting myself in her shoes and having the right intention which is not from anger or annoyance and by asking for God’s help, maybe we can put our words together in a way that is not hurting other people.

  8. James Aug 09, 2019 6:59 am 8

    I was inspired by this article and am going to add a new exercise to my OstadElahi-InPractice Lab: “every evening assess my interactions with people that day and the words I uttered at one occasion”.

    As I am a very perfectionist and goal-oriented person and need to prevent my imperious self to have leverage against me, I modified my exercise to do that at only one occasion.

    I would be quite happy if anybody could help extract more practical exercises out of this article.

    1. Yan Aug 10, 2019 1:09 am 8.1

      James, I really like your idea of trying to extract practical exercises from this article. I think we should set this as a tradition, do this with all articles we read here, that way we can practice in vivo and learn. Myself sometimes, I read, I think “wow”, and then I move on, forgetting what the purpose was in the first place.

      Having said that this is my practical exercise:

      To be aware and conscious of my tone, at least 3 times a day, and modify it accordingly.

      The issue is, most of the time, I’m not mindful, I say things, but I don’t mean things, I don’t even understand what I’m saying. Someone asks me how are you: I say “I’m good”, “I’m perfect”, “Thank you” but I don’t mean it. Sometimes my tone is so cold that it changes the mood of the person asking me. I’m like a robot. It’s all mechanical. Certain questions trigger certain answers automatically. If I’m not aware of my answers, how can I be aware of my tone!? If I’m not aware of my tone, how can I be aware of my intention which is instrumental in my process of perfection? How can I not hurt people?

      I read a really good book on this topic called “I and Thou”. The idea is, we sometimes, maybe unconsciously, see our fellows as objects, not as a human being. When “I” see you as an object, I’m in “I-It” state, on the contrary, when I see you as a human being, a real You, I’m in “I-You” state.

      Here is an excerpt from the book:

      A Prologue by translator Walter Kaufman:

      “God is present when I confront You. But if I look away from You, I ignore him. As long as I merely experience or use you, I deny God. But when I encounter You I encounter him.”

      Excerpt from the book, by the author, “Martin Buber”:

      “THE WORLD IS TWOFOLD for man in accordance with his twofold attitude. The attitude of man is twofold in accordance with the two basic words he can speak. The basic words are not single words but word pairs. One basic word is the word pair I-You. The other basic word is the word pair I-It; but this basic word is not changed when He or She takes the place of It. Thus the I of man is also twofold. For the I of the basic word I-You is different from that in the basic word I-It.”

      “Every You in the world is doomed by its nature to become a thing or at least to enter into thinghood again and again. In the language of objects: every thing in the world can—either before or after it becomes a thing—appear to some I as its You.”

      So, my goal should be first to see others as a “You” not as an “It”, then be mindful of my tone, and revise it according to His satisfaction. After all, you, just as me and everybody else, carry a particle of Him within you.

      1. James Aug 12, 2019 5:28 am 8.1.1

        I am really thankful Yan.
        I learned one great exercise: “To be aware and conscious of my tone, at least 3 times a day, and modify it accordingly.”

  9. Geeve Aug 10, 2019 4:42 am 9

    To set up a routine to regularly analyze negative words through self-examination to avoid the manifestation of the imperious self in any of the multiple facets of one’s life is a great idea. Negative words cause the specific and negative circumstances that trigger them or exacerbate them if they already exist. But where do we stop and when do we start the conversation again in order for the conversation to have any meaning? I can think about what I said and refine it to the max. Do I take it back and open the conversation again and optimally use the well thought of words to present my side?
    The main problem is that with the exception of a few scientific arguments conducted by professionals, the overwhelming majority of people don’t follow the rules of a conversation/argument. Now, I cannot imagine learning and growing without being a part of a pressing argument. But where do I find such refined partners in a discussion?

    Is this my imperious self that is trying to mask my shortcoming and place the blame on the circumstances? Or is it just a reality with which I will have to deal somehow? I’ll have to think about that.

    I used to leave the heated conversations when I clearly determined that the point of the conversation had turned from learning and conversing to just winning. I had no time for that. But I was told that people consider that to be rude. It was “wrong” of me to avoid a meaningless fight by not allowing the tempers to escalate through vacating from the discussion. I needed to participate even though I saw no point in that.
    It seems that the common accepted practice is to stay silent. No matter what the other party says, there will be a time that silence is the only option to avoid the rising of the tempers. Perhaps silence can be used as a pregnant pause to gather thoughts and redirect and maybe penetrate an even impenetrable mind. But an argument that is extended also bears the fruit of negativity by its inevitable vice. So, The only way out of this is to be prepared, or more prepared, and calmly dispense the thoughts and points with the hope of a receptive audience.

    1. Sena Aug 14, 2019 5:48 am 9.1

      I learned these things from what you said:
      – sometimes we need to just stay silent and not say anything, it is not a sign of weakness and can even be a noble character.
      – we should not be after winning a conversation, it may be a manifestation of our imperious self.

    2. Yan Aug 15, 2019 12:43 am 9.2

      Geeve, you made an interesting point. I have had similar experiences in negotiation/discussion with people around me, and I always wished I had more “refined partners” and “receptive audience” around me, as you would say. But later I noticed had I had all that I wished for, then what would I have done with my imperfections and vices? If everyone around me played the game by the rules and was understating and considerate, who would trigger my weaknesses, for which I came to this world; those weaknesses that are the root cause of all my misery and frustrations?

      So, whenever others become unreasonable or inconsiderate making me frustrated, and when my imperious self implies to me that the issue lies in others not me, I tell myself: “in fact, I’m the issue here. I’m impatient and my sound reason isn’t developed enough to enable me to handle others in all kind of situations. I have to learn how to handle the most unreasonable and inconsiderate person on this planet, and then I will have something to say! There is no art or virtue in handling those situations when others are reasonable and play by the rules. Even from just a purely material perspective, good negotiators are those who can handle all kinds of people.”

      I also ask myself: “How would Ostad Elahi have answered or reacted to that person in this situation?”. I know that this is just a beginning, but at least I have a goal and role model to follow.

      Having said that, I have learned that the main causes of my frustrations are: Impatience & Pride. There are two great articles posted on the website Impatience under Microscope and I’m Impatient but Working on it that helped me deal with my impatience a lot. I do read them at least a few times a year, and each time they help me more. Below are some of the highlights:

      “im-patient people are people who are incapable of bearing, of enduring. They cannot stand certain situations or cannot “suffer” certain people. In medicine, a “patient” is a person who must endure sickness and sometimes await death.”

      “Impatient people seek agency over others and the world at large; they forget that they are part of a whole and that they are themselves dependent on those very people who seem to be so incompetent in their eyes.”

      “The more one’s mind expands, the more patient and tolerant one becomes.” Ostad Elahi’s words also refer to one of the pillars of his teaching, which is the observance of others’ rights. These rights are not limited to the legal sphere but also include their right to exist, to manifest themselves, to be the way they are. Everything that will help us welcome the world and others as they are will help us become more patient and fight against intolerance.”

      “Becoming understanding is putting oneself in other people’s shoes and accepting imperfection”

      “In all cases, we have to learn to interpose a moment to think between our impulses and our actions…We can objectively analyse our exasperated reaction and become aware that our first reaction might have been purely egoistic and triggered by the fact that our routine and comfort have been disrupted.”

      “Let us listen to others without interrupting them. Let us try to understand what they are telling us and why they are telling it to us.”

      “Expanding our minds means increasing our ability to welcome and to learn more in fields that are new to us. Accepting imperfection in things and in people and then transforming this initial negative impression into true interest in others can result in increased empathy, consideration for others, and eventually love.”

      “Being tolerant toward ourselves requires first of all seeing ourselves as we are, with all our imperfections and failures. Accepting our helplessness is a good step toward self-knowledge; it helps us see our weak points so that we may tackle them. Looking at ourselves, and at our own impatience and intolerance in particular, will also help us become more tolerant toward others.”

      “What must be overcome is my own incapacity, rather than the imperfections of others. A good tool in this process is to work on self-effacement. For example, letting others express themselves before I start to speak, listening to their ideas and respecting them, keeping quiet.”

      “From a spiritual perspective, the opposite of impatience translates in a mature behaviour and in a willingness to peacefully wait for destiny or God to intervene. Accepting that we do not hold the reins of our destiny and trusting the unknown of what will be, while relying on a superior guiding force that manages our lives… Rather than storming head first, truly patient people will submit themselves.”

      “Patience enables us to take a step back from events and situations and to smile on the inside in the face of annoying circumstances. The result is greater clarity of thought and better behaviour; we become more serene and paradoxically have more energy.”

  10. Hello Aug 14, 2019 8:27 am 10

    What a practical and relatable article. It shows the importance of having a specific plan to reach very concrete findings.

    During my practice of positive saying I’ve realized how I give myself the right to speak negatively to colleagues who don’t speak to me in a way that I like. What I like is: giving me positive feedback, accepting my ideas, etc. It has been very difficult to convince myself not to speak negatively about these colleagues because in my mind they are intentionally making my job more difficult. My plan for now is to keep silent when I’m tempted to speak negatively and change the tone of my emails and the way I speak to those colleagues.

  11. Naghme Aug 18, 2019 5:23 am 11

    Amazing article!! Thank you for the suggestion to regularly analyze our negative words. Actually, we had a workplace training video this week for some issues and to harmonize our group. One content point was about how to identify sensitive topics at the workplace. We should take finances, race, romance, religion, politics, etc. off the table if we are speaking to people outside of a close-knit circle. These topics relate closely to people’s beliefs and values. Our “wild tongue” can trigger anger and cause colleagues to become extremely offended.
    If other people are talking about these things, then just better remain out of the conversation or if possible, steer the conversation in another, safer, direction.
    If we absolutely must comment, then remember to take a 10-second pause to think about what we are saying and the impact it might have. We need to know that some things said as a joke or sarcasm can be interpreted as discriminatory.

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