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O Companion of My Throne! Hear no evil, and see no evil, abase not thyself, neither sigh and weep. Speak no evil, that thou mayest not hear it spoken unto thee, and magnify not the faults of others that thine own faults may not appear great; and wish not the abasement of anyone, that thine own abasement be not exposed. Live then the days of thy life, that are less than a fleeting moment, with thy mind stainless, thy heart unsullied, thy thoughts pure, and thy nature sanctified, so that, free and content, thou mayest put away this mortal frame, and repair unto the mystic paradise and abide in the eternal kingdom for evermore. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 37.
The Baha’i writings have a strong emphasis on speech. In this series of essays, we’ve explored that emphasis; examined some of the ways speech can turn violent, abusive and harmful; and taken a look at the Baha’i teachings that counsel all humanity to avoid backbiting, calumny and cursing others.
Now let’s turn our eyes to the Baha’i teachings that emphasize the positive effects of wise, kindly and loving speech.
1) Truthfulness and eloquence, Abdu’l-Baha wrote, should be our first goal:
When we speak let our speech be an outward evidence of the inner light, for we must speak the truth, otherwise we shall not act wisely. I hope that you will all become eloquent. The greatest gifts of man are reason and eloquence of expression. The perfect man is both intelligent and eloquent. He has knowledge and knows how to express it. – Divine Philosophy, p. 103.
In many ways, this advice follows the consistent tone of the Baha’i writings, which emphasize and encourage the human acquisition and development of inner beauty, knowledge and eloquence:
How can we practically do that in the real world? After truthfulness and eloquence, the Baha’i teachings recommend, we can try to remain silent about the faults, problems and shortcomings of others—just as we would want them to remain silent about ours.
2) If we hear backbiting from others, we can find kind ways to halt it
If any individual should speak ill of one who is absent, it is incumbent on his hearers, in a spiritual and friendly manner, to stop him, and say in effect: would this detraction serve any useful purpose? Would it… be of any possible benefit to any soul? No, never! On the contrary, it would make the dust to settle so thickly on the heart that the ears would hear no more, and the eyes would no longer behold the light of truth. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 230.
3) We can attempt to avoid judgment and seek to consult with others in a spirit of mutual respect
In accordance with the divine teachings in this glorious dispensation we should not belittle anyone and call him ignorant, saying: ‘You know not, but I know’. Rather, we should look upon others with respect, and when attempting to explain and demonstrate, we should speak as if we are investigating the truth, saying: ‘Here these things are before us. Let us investigate to determine where and in what form the truth can be found.’ – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 30.
4) We can try to gauge the capacity of those listening to us, and wisely adjust our speech accordingly
Follow thou the way of thy Lord, and say not that which the ears cannot bear to hear, for such speech is like luscious food given to small children. However palatable, rare and rich the food may be, it cannot be assimilated by the digestive organs of a suckling child. Therefore unto every one who hath a right, let his settled measure be given. ‘Not everything that a man knoweth can be disclosed, nor can everything that he can disclose be regarded as timely, nor can every timely utterance be considered as suited to the capacity of those who hear it.’ Such is the consummate wisdom to be observed in thy pursuits. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 268-269.
5) Baha’u’llah asks the enlightened among us to speak “with words as mild as milk:”
Every word is endowed with a spirit, therefore the speaker or expounder should carefully deliver his words at the appropriate time and place, for the impression which each word maketh is clearly evident and perceptible. The Great Being saith: One word may be likened unto fire, another unto light, and the influence which both exert is manifest in the world. Therefore an enlightened man of wisdom should primarily speak with words as mild as milk, that the children of men may be nurtured and edified thereby and may attain the ultimate goal of human existence which is the station of true understanding and nobility. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 172-173.