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Our words are incredibly powerful. They have the power to uplift, enlighten, and inspire, but also to damage, discourage, and depress. That’s why Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, advised us to use tact, wisdom, and moderation when we speak. He wrote:
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.
…One word is like unto springtime causing the tender saplings of the rose-garden of knowledge to become verdant and flourishing, while another word is even as a deadly poison.
I don’t know about you, but I think the world can use less fire and more light, less poison, and more love. This starts with being impeccable with our words.
What Does It Mean To Be Impeccable With Your Word?
In his book, “The Four Agreements,” don Miguel Ruiz identified being “impeccable with your word” as the first agreement we must make with ourselves to avoid unnecessary suffering and live a joyful and fulfilling life.
Given that the word ‘impeccable’ originates from the Latin ‘impeccabilis,’ a fusion of the Latin prefix ‘in-‘ meaning ‘not,’ and the verb ‘peccare’ meaning ‘to sin,’ don Miguel Ruiz defines being impeccable with your word as speaking without sin.
Drawing on the guidance from the Baha’i writings, here are five ways we can practice impeccability with our words.
How To Be Impeccable With Your Word: 5 Tips
1. Don’t Shatter Someone’s Confidence
In “The Four Agreements,” don Miguel Ruiz shares a story about a beautiful little girl who loved to sing until her mother, feeling tense from work and suffering from a terrible headache, told her, “Shut up! You have an ugly voice. Can you just shut up!” Although her mother didn’t truly believe her daughter had an ugly voice, she took out her frustration on her. Despite the girl having a beautiful voice, she believed what her mother said and never sang again.
This story resonated with me because my mother and I experienced the same thing, although with different people. When my mother was a young teenager, she used to sing acapella with her sisters. The people in her town loved her voice, and friends from Detroit encouraged her to audition for talent scouts looking for a female version of The Jackson 5. However, her confidence was shattered when her friend told her, “I don’t know why you sing all the time. You don’t have a good voice.” She still rarely sings in public except for the lullabies she sings to her grandchildren and the prayers she sings in Baha’i gatherings.
Don Miguel Ruiz refers to this cruel use of words as “casting spells,” because, as he explains, “whenever we hear an opinion and believe it, we make it an agreement, and it becomes part of our belief system.” When these beliefs are negative and limiting, they can lower our self-esteem, thwart our confidence, and rob us of our joy. When I was just in elementary school, I used to happily sing all the time until a close relative told me that I wasn’t a good singer. Ever since then, I’ve only let my mother hear me sing.
So, I understand why the Baha’i writings say that words can be “even as a deadly poison.” We need to use our words to lift people up and not tear them down.
2. Refrain From Backbiting and Calumny
One of the worst ways to tear people down is through backbiting. Merriam-Webster defines “backbiting” as saying “mean or spiteful things about a person (such as someone who is not present).” Backbiting, calumny, and fault-finding are forbidden in the Baha’i Faith. Baha’u’llah wrote:
Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command, accursed wouldst thou be, and to this I bear witness.
Don Miguel Ruiz compared gossiping to a computer virus. He explained, “One little piece of misinformation can break down communication between people, causing every person it touches to become infected and contagious to others. Imagine that every single time others gossip to you, they insert a computer virus into your mind, causing you to think a little less clearly every time. Then imagine that in an effort to clean up your own confusion and get some relief from the poison, you gossip and spread these viruses to someone else.”
Backbiting and calumny can not only harm individual relationships, but they can also cause more widespread damage in the form of stereotypes against large groups of people. As Don Miguel Ruiz wrote, “When we see the world through a computer virus, it is easy to justify the cruelest behavior. What we don’t see is that misuse of our word is putting us deeper into hell.”
3. Avoid Cursing and Reviling Others
Someone once told me, “I don’t backbite. If I don’t like someone, I’ll say it to their face.” While that person wasn’t engaging in backbiting, he certainly wasn’t creating harmonious relationships that way either. Baha’u’llah wrote:
Defile not your tongues with the cursing and reviling of any soul. …Be not the cause of grief, much less of discord and strife.
Whether you’re cursing at someone or cussing, in general, to express frustration about your current situation, using profane language will never bring you joy.
“When you are impeccable with your word, you feel good; you feel happy and at peace,” wrote don Miguel Ruiz. “Use the word in the correct way. Use the word to share your love.”
4. Use Your Words to Uplift People
A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men. It is the bread of the spirit, it clotheth the words with meaning, it is the fountain of the light of wisdom and understanding…
Baha’is are instructed to use kind words and deeds to:
Enrich the poor, raise the fallen, comfort the sorrowful, bring healing to the sick, reassure the fearful, rescue the oppressed, bring hope to the hopeless, shelter the destitute!
When our words and deeds are like beautiful prayers, we spread more light and love into this world. Of course, none of this can be done without truthfulness.
5. Speak Truthfully
The Baha’i writings say that “truthfulness is the foundation of all the virtues of the human world, and without it prosperity and salvation are unattainable to any soul in all the worlds of God. Whensoever this holy attribute becometh securely established in one’s being, the acquisition of all heavenly virtues will be realized.”
This requires being truthful in all our interactions and living an honest and trustworthy life. “Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love,” advised don Miguel Ruiz.
“…Impeccability of the word can lead you to personal freedom, to huge success and abundance; it can take away all fear and transform it into joy and love.”