Right Speech

“Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am determined to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope. I will not spread news that I do not know to be certain and will not criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break. I am determined to make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.”

The Fourth Mindfulness Training from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh

Right Speech is one aspect of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, which is the way to well-being. Other aspects are Right View, Right Mindfulness, Right Thinking, Right Action, Right Diligence, Right Concentration, and Right Livelihood.
Right speech requires right view, right thinking and right mindfulness. If we misperceive a situation or are confused, distracted or overwhelmed with emotion, we are vulnerable to saying the wrong thing.  When we are unclear on our motivations, our speech can be hurtful. When we feel emotionally depleted it is easy to make comments at another’s expense so that we might feel more correct, powerful or righteous.

We learn to speak from our parents and we may pick up their speech habits the same as we pick up their vocabulary. If their speech was angry, critical, nagging, belittling, worried, or self-deprecating, we may have learned to speak in the same way. We might also have learned to avoid certain of their ways of speech by observing the hurt that they caused. Many who grow up in angry households declare that they will never talk to their children in such anger, and in the process they disown their anger, become less aware of it and misdirect it when it arises.

Since we learn to speak before we gain understanding of the effects of our speech, it behooves us to reflect upon our speech habits and seek to use this gift of communication more mindfully.


Before you speak, check the state of your emotions. If you find yourself emotionally upset, consider the source of your upset. What conditions led to your current state? Maybe you could hold off speaking until you have had an opportunity to calm yourself.

Seek to be more aware of your intentions when you speak. Observe whether your intention is kindness or if your wish is to harm, hurt feelings, gain power or justify yourself.

Listen well. Practice really hearing the words and feeling the emotions of the person you may be speaking with.

Practice keeping awareness of your breath while you are speaking or listening. Allow the breath to calm you. Allow it to empower your words. Speak truth. Speak kindness.

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© 2002 Tom Barrett