The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
“I’ve said too much.”
How often do we catch ourselves saying or thinking that?
By our very nature, humans are expressive creatures. Language is one of our greatest gifts, a keystone of our advancement in the arts, sciences and other finer elements of civilization.
But lately, it seems that we view sharpness of the tongue as a virtue. The ability of comedians, pundits, commentators and politicians to sling “zingers” toward various targets often brings admiration and, sometimes, handsome financial reward. In our personal lives, some of us find it all too easy to slip toward negative comments or disparaging words about those we think have somehow wronged us.
But is that commendable or harmful? From a spiritual point of view, we all know that a sharp tongue can wound just as deeply as a sharp blade. Baha’u’llah, the prophet-founder of the Baha’i Faith, joined divine messengers from across the ages in gravely warning against the effects of snide, disparaging or otherwise negative speech. He asks us to
… observe silence and refrain from idle talk. For the tongue is a smoldering fire, and excess of speech a deadly poison. Material fire consumeth the body, whereas the fire of the tongue devoureth both heart and soul. The force of the former lasteth but for a time, whilst the effects of the latter endureth a century. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 264.
From a Baha’i perspective, perhaps the worst type of idle talk is backbiting and gossip. Baha’u’llah described it as a “grievous error” which “quencheth the light of the heart, and extinguisheth the life of the soul.” – ibid, p. 265.
Your grandmother probably gave you the same good advice, a simple enough rule to follow: When speaking of somebody who isn’t present, either say something positive, or don’t say anything at all. Or, as the old down-home saying goes: “Don’t say anything about somebody you wouldn’t say right to their face.”
No one said this would be easy. Many of us find it difficult to live up to, particularly in an increasingly polarized society, where character assassination and personal attacks sometimes seem acceptable or even praiseworthy.
Taking it a step further, I think the principle of silence–or perhaps more accurately, stillness and serenity–extends to the realm of the mind and soul. The principle of avoiding idle talk can also apply to what I call my “mental jabber.” Just as many of you might, I often catch myself thinking badly of others, obsessing over irrational fears and selfish desires, or just simply losing focus and appreciation for the world around me.
Our time here in this life is precious, and we shouldn’t waste it. Letting ourselves fall into negative speech or thinking not only wastes time, it sends us backward in our own personal development, so that we must spend more time trying to make up the difference. It hurts us spiritually, and it can terribly wound others. On the collective level, it actually hinders the development of civilization.
As I continue to work toward being positive and productive, in words, thoughts and deeds, I wish you the best in your journey and efforts.