True? Necessary? Kind?

Updated: Jan 27

This post is about the actualization of spiritual practice in the immediate moment—the fleeting, digital micro-instant most all of us these days inhabit countless times a day. I refer to the quick email, the text on the fly, the harried verbal text, the curt message left at the unanswered call, and yes, the screen to screen meeting.

These days, I see my topic in real-time, in brief, impersonal and personal interactions, in the store, on the street, recently in the Post Office. Bear with me. I'll be strolling, not running to my point.

Most mornings, I spend the first hour or so of the day reading. Generally, I'm reading a book. This week it's a delightful, funny, and creepy Australian novel, The Dressmaker (Pub. 2000), by Rosalie Ham. I won't give anything significant away by saying it's a story filled with oddball small "Australian bush-town” characters, doing, speaking, and wearing (hence the title) oddball things. Of course, there is a hidden mystery to be solved. A fact, generally seen as truth by all for a long time, is neither.

I can't source it quickly, but I recall hearing that Buddhist Abbot Reverend Jiyu Kennett enjoyed television soap operas, partly because they simplistically mirrored real life. Something hidden, intentional or not, was the "knot" to be unraveled in the plot. A secret pregnancy, an affair, an undisclosed fatal illness; all propelled the characters' actions, consciously or not. That's a subject to explore in another post.

Before taking up my novel, I read a daily email post from Prufrock News. I encourage you to take a look and subscribe. It's a varietal collection of literary, cultural, artistic, religious, philosophical, and photographic links, from which I invariably find valuable nuggets of interest and information.

This morning, Prufrock ((1/19/21 if you wish to look it up) sourced multiple articles on canceling a respected author/columnist for expressing opinions on a public figure. This journalist experienced abuse that, by any standard of social etiquette, should be abhorrent. Sadly, these days, it is not.

Reading all of this led to memories of a particular nugget of wisdom in my past. I researched the memory on Wikipedia. I followed the trail to an article on the founding of Wikipedia. While interesting, the item did not bolster my confidence in the platform's accuracy.

That activity led me to Bernard Melzer, a mid-20th century radio talk host. Then to Socrates. Then to a poem by Mary Ann Pietzker, published in 1872 by Griffith and Farran of London (I'll put the text in an endnote) [1].

Finally, I arrived at www.fakebuddhistquotes.com (the title says it all) and its companion site www.realbuddhistquotes.com. Both quite useful. What's my point? All of these folks, and others, have been credited as the originator of the wisdom-filled nugget. Here is my version of it:

Before you say something (or write, or text, or graffiti it on a wall, etc.), consider these. Is what you're about to communicate true, necessary, and kind?

I guess just about everyone has heard some form of this advice. I suspect my memory of this admonition came from my grandmother, who always had an apt saying. "What's worth doing is worth doing well," was another. So, I wanted to cite this nugget precisely, hence my digital journey.

The results of my research: Inconclusive . . . Socrates left nothing written. As far as I could ascertain, no writing about him contains the quote or something similar. As a Socrates student, by way of Plato, I believe he might have agreed with the wisdom contained therein but would not have always adhered to it. Socrates could be, in the modern vernacular, a "troll." [2] Therefore, he might have spoken the truth out of what he viewed as a necessity. Kindness, quite often, he ignored.

Our poet, Ms. Piezker, and our radio host Mr. Melzer are both likely recyclers of older wisdom. Bless them both.

The Buddha has been blithely credited with the instruction, but I believe that is successfully debunked by the "false Buddha quotes" website. However, here's something Buddhistic that applies--on "Right Speech:"

"Monks, a statement endowed with five factors is well-spoken, not ill-spoken.

It is blameless & unfaulted by knowledgeable people. Which five?

"It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately.

It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will. [3]

And one more:

"Monks, speech endowed with four characteristics is well-spoken,

not poorly spoken — faultless & not to be faulted by the wise. Which four?

There is the case where a monk says only what is well-spoken, not what is poorly spoken; only what is just, not what is unjust; only what is endearing, not what is unendearing; only what is true, not what is false. [4]

Disclaimer: Scriptures with passages "spoken" by the Buddha were all historically composed long after the Buddha's life. Still, both quotes offer pretty good advice, applicable to my topic.

My conclusion: Whether Socrates', Piezker's, Melzer's, Buddha's, or grandma's, wisdom is wisdom. How do you know? Sit with it. "What's worth doing is worth doing well." Probably not Buddha's, but pretty Buddhistic advice. Place the whole of your meditation on the task. If you cannot, it may not be worth doing. Place your full reflection on your response to something that sharply affects you and to which you feel compelled to immediately respond. Of course, it's alright to have a counter-opinion or to feel strongly about something or someone. For, or against, it's human.

In our instantaneous, immediate, nano-second electronic universe, old wisdom is more important than ever. An article I read recently regarding online meetings, so prevalent now, cautioned that even screen to screen, we do not receive 100% of the information we receive in in-person interactions. But wait! I can see and hear that person. Sorry, the seeing is still a two-dimensional flat screen. The hearing is an electronic rendering of a human voice. At first, I disagreed. The author solidly made his/her case (sorry, I cannot cite this. It's lost in the Internet(s).).

In voice or print alone, much more information is lacking. Do emojis clarify? I can't say. I don't use them. Indeed, they might help, but I assert emojis must be used carefully, with reflection.


Are you safer with a close friend or family member than, say, a distant acquaintance or business colleague? I say no. Every individual interaction with another individual, in-person and certainly digitally, requires and deserves reflection. Simply, it's a matter of respect. Practically, it's a matter of your soul (what?). It's "golden rule" stuff. Treat other folks as you wish to be treated.


The journalist cited earlier experienced a lot of abuse, the briefest I wince to quote, "k*ke c*nt!" Wow, a lot of reflection there! I can't say whether the journalist is of Jewish heritage. I can say, "he" is male. Neither distinction matters.

Beyond truth and necessity, one way to know if an action is "kind" is the quality of residue that trails behind it. Every act leaves a residue outside of us and inside of us. Outside, a misspoken word hangs in the air, like the smell of something rotten. We believe saying it will make us feel better, but it doesn't. The decaying smell/taste invades us, wrinkles our nose, churns our stomach, causes us discomfort. We may regret, attempt to make amends. That's a worthy effort. Or, too often these days, like an addict craving more, we pile on with more venality. Still, we don't feel better, but worse. Did your most recent "chat" feed and response make you feel better, or worse? Again, I don't know. I don't engage in the activity.


Before we act, we can sit with our intentional act. We can rehearse in meditation. We can sing it silently to see if it harmonizes with the best within us. I'm a robust reactive personality. Sitting with it, I often find that the vital necessity to respond weakens or disappears altogether. If we still feel it's necessary, we can compose a strong, forceful, persuasive counter-response that is true and kind, one that will leave a different quality of residue, neutral, or even pleasant.

Finally: Do I do this perfectly? Of course not. None of us will. We all can do it better. Breathe . . . sit with it. Reflect. Wisdom is still wisdom, even if it's on a bumper sticker.

Consider these meditations:

"When one has knowledge or perception of any two thoughts,

one should simultaneously leave both aside, and reside in the center between the two. In the center, one's true nature shines forth." [5]

Or,

There should be no feeling of aversion or attachment towards any person or place. By remaining in the center between the two, one is liberated from the duality of aversion and attachment. Then, one experiences God spreading everywhere.” [6]

What's the center of two thoughts? Stillness. Awareness. Awakeness. The verse emphasizes centering, balancing, residing spiritually between the extremes. When we are strongly affected by something, or someone, whether pleasantly or unpleasantly, we are shoved off-balance.

Pleasant affection is less clear, more seductive, and insidious. Sit with it. Reflect, before you react.

Unpleasant affection is more apparent, gross, more easily recognized, and more easily thoughtlessly responded to. Sit with it. Reflect, before you retaliate.

___________________

Endnotes:

[1] "Is It True? Is It Necessary? Is It Kind?

Oh! Stay, dear child, one moment stay,

Before a word you speak,

That can do harm in any way

To the poor, or to the weak;

And never say of any one

What you'd not have said of you,

Ere you ask yourself the question,

"Is the accusation true?"

And if 'tis true, for I suppose

You would not tell a lie;

Before the failings you expose

Of friend or enemy:

Yet even then be careful, very;

Pause and your words well weigh,

And ask if it be necessary,

What you're about to say.

And should it necessary be,

At least you deem it so,

Yet speak not unadvisedly

Of friend or even foe,

Till in your secret soul you seek

For some excuse to find;

And ere the thoughtless word you speak,

Ask yourself, "Is it kind?"

When you have ask'd these questions three—

True,—Necessary,—Kind,—

Ask'd them in all sincerity,

I think that you will find,

It is not hardship to obey

The command of our Blessed Lord,—

No ill of any man to say;

No, not a single word.

[2] Source: Antonio Kowatsch, Composer, game developer, and occasional writer:

"Socrates was actually kind of a douchebag in real life. He has put down a lot of talented people (like the poet Ion) in his lifetime. Furthermore, he has played plenty of cruel jokes on his students (I think youths these days refer to this type of behavior as "trolling"). And don't even get me started on the "Socratic method." He totally abused it to piss people off in debates (best example: his infamous conversation with Euthypro). Even at his own execution he couldn't stop being a pain the you know what . . .

A lot of people don't really realize how much of a troll Socrates really was. Every time when he insulted other people (which happened quite a lot) he just shrugged it off by claiming that a divine spirit took over his speech and that he couldn't be held accountable for it. When he was convicted for "corrupting the youth" his accusers demanded for him to get the death penalty. Socrates on the other hand suggested that he should get free meals in the dining hall (for life) instead.

Socrates? more like Socrazy. (sorry, I couldn't resist)"

[3] "Vaca Sutta: A Statement" (AN 5.198), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 3 July 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an05/an05.198.than.html.

[4] "Subhasita Sutta: Well-Spoken" (Sn 3.3), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/snp/snp.3.03.than.html .

[5] Vigyan Bharaiva Tantra, Vs. 61. [Ranjit Chaudhri trans.]

[6] Vigyan Bharaiva Tantra, Vs. 126. [Ranjit Chaudhri trans.]

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