Note: This post contains a giveaway. If you’re reading this in your inbox, click here to participate on the site .
Growing up in a loud Italian family, I learned early on to scream and speak fast if I wanted to be heard. Neither of these things is conducive to speaking mindfully. And doing these two things together, especially when angry or agitated, all but guarantees a stressful, ineffective conversation.
I’ve had quite a few of those in my life. And more times than I care to admit I’ve hurt people with things I’ve said—to them or about them.
I’ve offended people by speaking impulsively, I’ve damaged trust by venting to a third party instead of confronting someone directly, and I’ve insulted people to get a few laughs without really considering the impact of my sarcastic words.
While I’ve made tremendous progress with these things, I know I still have room for improvement. If you do, as well, you may appreciate Barbara Ann Kipfer’s What Would Buddha Say ?
The book presents 1,501 mindful communication tips based on the Buddhist concept of Right Speech—speech that is useful and beneficial—including:
It’s not just what you say—it’s how, when, and why you say it.
Even though what you have to say is important, you can respect what others find important at the time.
Listen with compassion, without judgment, and with an open mind.
It’s essentially a massive list of reminders to help you give your full, thoughtful attention to your words so you’re more likely to communicate clearly and less likely to damage your relationships.
At the back of the book, you’ll find a number of short essays that address issues related to Right Speech, including anger, criticism, and overthinking, along with several meditations.
While you could read through the book from start to finish, I like to open to a random page in the morning and read one idea to carry into the day. (I recommend using the book this way, since there’s a lot of overlap with the teachings, and they don’t build on one another, but rather complement each other.)
I’ve found that absorbing just a few words about watching my words helps me set the intention to speak mindfully, and that setting this intention is the key to kinder, clearer, more effective communication.
I’m grateful that Barbara took the time to answer my questions about her book and Right Speech, and that she’s provided two free copies of What Would Buddha Say? for Tiny Buddha readers.
To enter to win one of two free copies of What Would Buddha Say?
You can enter until midnight PST on Friday, July 10th.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to write this book?
I am an inveterate listmaker. I started my “things to be happy about” list in 1966, sixth grade. That became 14,000 things to be happy about , which has been in print for twenty-five years and has sold more than a million copies.
I’ve been a lexicographer for nearly forty years and at one point I was compiling a kids’ encyclopedia. When I got to the subject of Buddhism and started reading about it, I was overjoyed that the Buddha loved lists, too, and he taught others by using lists.
From there, I decided to learn as much as I could and earned a Master’s and PhD in Buddhist Studies. That knowledge has made it possible for me to write spiritually themed books like What Would Buddha Say?
How can we improve our lives and relationships by practicing Right Speech?
Here is what I think I should have put for the first entry: If you hear a human voice…listen! That person is probably talking to you! And I am not joking: the biggest improvements we can make in the area of Right Speech are to listen more and talk a lot less.
Think about how you get yourself in trouble, how you usually get into conflicts with others, how unhappiness is often caused. The majority of the time, the cause is what you say. This book is offered to help readers learn to speak truthfully and with lovingkindness.
What have been the biggest challenges for you personally when it comes to practicing Right Speech?
Exactly the same as everybody else—which is why I was so keen on writing this book out of the eight parts of the Noble Eightfold Path.
As a lexicographer and listmaker, I have been awash in the world of words all my life. As a Buddhist studies scholar, I read and read and read about Right Speech. Yet, I say something boneheaded just about every day! I need a book of reminders, so I wrote one.
I have worked from home for thirty years, so my social skills are not honed like others’ and I’m also sometimes starved for social contact. So when I go to something where there are people, I sometimes overshare or voice my opinions too boldly. I have been practicing mindfulness so that I stop myself before launching into one of these “Barbara thinks” soliloquies.
Oftentimes, we say things we don’t mean to say because we speak when we are angry. How can we work on this so we less frequently say things we regret?
Before real anger occurs, there is a mental discomfort and an awareness that something is happening that you do not want. By being mindful and aware of that momentary gap before reacting takes over, you can make a controlled, graceful response. Learning how to return to the present moment with mindfulness is like a safety net when you are provoked by anger or hatred.
What, have you found, is the best approach to responding when someone else speaks unkindly to us?
If someone is expressing anger or unkind words toward you, watch your breath and keep it slow and steady. Pause for several seconds and wait. The person may sense that they are being unkind or angry and they may stop. If you react with hurt or anger, then you yourself destroy your own peace of mind.
It is not that we should stand there and take it. Often, there are choices. If you do not react and the person continues a tirade, you can simply walk away. You can try to change the subject or even make a joke, but that is often not as effectual as walking away.
In the pause, remember that you, too, have acted this way toward others—maybe even the very person who is now doing it to you.
Some compassion may arise. And in the moment of compassion, you can remind yourself that the anger the other person is expressing may have little or nothing to do with you, but has formulated due to other things that person is having trouble handling.