What is the purpose of speech? Is speech meant to create your image? Flatter your boss? Accuse your boyfriend? Do you use speech to vilify your enemies, ridicule candidates from the other political party, or dish on co-workers?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, "The purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others." So in this light, the purpose of speech is truth. Pure and simple.
If Catholicism isn’t your cup of tea, consider Buddhism. In Buddhism’s Noble Eightfold Path, “right speech” ranks number three. Right speech presents in four forms:
- Restraint from false speech
- Restraint from tale-bearing
- Restraint from harsh talk
- Restraint from useless chatter
Gossip, lies of convenience, character assassination, verbal attacks and needless chit-chat don’t fall into the realm of right speech.
The Buddhapadipa Temple frames right speech positively:
- Speech is spoken at the right time
- Speech is true
- Speech is sweet
- Speech is useful and helpful
- Speech is kind and compassionate
How does your speech measure up? Is it timely, true, sweet and kind?
Promoting his book “The Road to Character” in an interview in The Atlantic, David Brooks said, "The things that we admire most—honesty, humility, self-control, courage—those things take some time and they accumulate slowly."
Most of us spend a lot of time on our appearance and physical fitness. A pedicure takes a good 30 minutes, foils and a haircut — at least an hour. We berate ourselves — a wrong use of speech — if we don’t exercise at least three hours a week. But how much time do we spend on inner beauty, on character?
Consider journaling, keeping a list of your successes at failures at honesty. Meditate on the Buddhist definition of right speech.