Because speech comes naturally, we don’t think about it much. But paying attention to what people say tells us a great deal about what is going on for them.
Basically, we speak because we want something. We want the salt, we want to know the price, we need help with the kids. . . So, a good deal of our speech simply involves getting through our days. We also speak to be understood, to explain our choices and to defend ourselves to avoid criticism.
But the most significant reason we converse comes out of our need to feel better about ourselves. A good deal of our talking is centered, in one way or another, around our feelings of inadequacy.
Our culture gives us so many messages that who we are is not OK, that we spend a good deal of time and energy defending against that impression. When we are not engaged in commerce as it were, a great part of our interactions come from our need to feel good enough, to be perceived as smart and to feel acceptable.
You can confirm this for yourself. Pay attention to how much of what other people say centers around their unhealed woundedness. It will not be addressed directly, but they will speak from their need to feel loved, to be accepted, to be seen, to seem well informed, perhaps even to be “better than,” etc.
In the ideal, we would simply ask for what we need, but it becomes more complicated than that. We have learned that it is not OK to ask for what we want, and so we have learned to be indirect. We tip-toe. Therefore talking becomes a tool for manipulation. We con, we withhold, we don’t tell the truth, we apply pressure, we play games or do whatever else will get us what we think we need.
Besides, we often are not really sure we deserve what we want in the first place, so we hedge our bets. For the most part, this is not done consciously but is driven by the wounded part of us that is either trying to feel OK or to confirm our unworthiness.
Besides, this part of us feels alone much of the time and talking helps us to feel more certain about our fears and anxieties. We want to do the right thing, and sharing and receiving feedback helps us clarify our thoughts and feelings. Talking becomes one of the ways we work around our uncertainties.
We also use words as a defense. We hide behind them. When afraid, we can attack, criticize, manipulate or otherwise try to gain psychological leverage. We can use words to deflect away criticism or obfuscate the truth.
Another defensive tool is to put up a wall of silence or to withhold. It is not that any of this is “wrong,” these are just external expressions of a confused and frightened inner dialogue. It is what we feel we need to do in order to get by.
Our healthiest use of language is when we “give” to another, and we can do this in several ways. We can praise, support, offer thanks, pay a compliment, express gratitude and even bless others. These are some of the highest forms of communication, but when the ego gets involved, our giving can become manipulative.
Driven by ego, we can even “give someone a piece of our mind.” When the ego is silent, we can be compassionate, quit talking and authentically listen.
Spiritual people seek out places of isolation for their inner work because they have moved beyond the need to talk. They want to limit distractions, and their “conversing” will have moved out of the realm of social interaction to a whole other level.
If you ever are in the presence of a Master, you will notice that his or her attention will not be on themselves, but rather on those around them. A Master will have (largely) healed their inner woundedness, and no longer carry the fear of being hurt or wounded. This allows them to move beyond the neediness of the self.
This distinction marks the fundamental difference between living in the ego space and living from the God Space. The ego space is an arena of fear and woundedness. When we live in the ego space our emotions are fragile and we can be hurt. The transition to the God Space entails the recognition that we can never be truly harmed and the security that comes from that. When that happens, the motivation for speaking shifts markedly.
Watch your thoughts, they become words.
Watch your words, they become actions.
Watch your actions, they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.
Lao Tsu, The Tao Te Ching
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