Did you know that we can use our words to create a more compassionate world?
Sometimes, we struggle to express our thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and emotions. We usually know what we want to say and yet we struggle to choose words that accurately reflect what’s going on inside our heads. This leads to confusion and misunderstanding that create invisible barriers between others and us. That barrier prevents us from finding common ground and showing compassion to each other. Compassion requires understanding.
Communication is most effective when we all use the same language. Even when we speak the same language, the words we use may have different meanings to each of us depending on our culture and experiences. So, let’s start by defining a few terms to improve our understanding.
- Thoughts are ideas and concepts formed in our own consciousness. Sometimes thoughts are formed or influenced by what we see, hear, read, or experience. When others share their thoughts, it influences the thoughts we have. Thoughts are not necessarily beliefs or opinions and they may or may not be truthful. We may accept or reject these thoughts, too. The thoughts we have may create emotional reactions. In fact, it’s rare to have a thought and not respond with one or more emotions. Often, we use these emotional responses to decide whether to accept or reject a thought and make it our own.
- Emotions, also called feelings, help us decide which thoughts to keep and which to toss aside. The greater the emotional response, the more likely we will remember a thought, even if it’s something we’ve decided isn’t true. We’ll remember that “false” thought to help us recognize similar thoughts in the future and respond in a similar way. It’s common for people to use the phrase, “I feel…” to express an opinion or belief. We feel emotions and think or believe opinions. The opinions we form are created by the intersection of our thoughts and our emotional response to those thoughts.
Be impeccable with your word.
In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz shares his wisdom for living a satisfying life in the form of four agreements. His premise is that we all make agreements with ourselves, our loved ones, and our higher power that determine how we will behave and respond to life events. He proposes these four agreements as alternatives to replace unhealthy, self-destructive agreements that rob us from joy, purpose, and fulfillment. The first of these agreements is: Be Impeccable with Your Word.
What does it mean to be impeccable with your word? Webster’s Dictionary defines impeccable as “free from fault or blame, flawless.” Ruiz explains his first agreement by stating, “Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean.” He also describes the human mind as fertile ground where the words we use and the thoughts we embrace are planted and grow to create the views, opinions, and beliefs that define how we behave and respond to the world around us.
In order to be impeccable with our word, we choose to accurately express our thoughts, emotions, opinions, and beliefs. We choose our words with mindful intention. When expressing a thought, we might say, “I think…” and when sharing our opinion or belief, we may say, “I believe…” or “I think…” while reserving “I feel…” for describing our emotions.
Here’s a practical example.
I walk outside and look up at the sky to notice it’s very blue today. That’s my thought. In response to that thought, I smile and experience a sense of joy. That’s my emotional response. It’s a positive emotion, so I form an opinion about a blue sky: a blue sky is good. I might choose to share that opinion with others by saying, “I feel happy today because the sky is blue.” It would sound strange if I said, “I feel that the sky is blue today.”
Create a more compassionate world.
When we are impeccable with our words, we accurately name what is thought, belief, opinion, or emotion (or feeling). We’re more likely to be understood accurately and there’s less room for confusion. It’s also easier for people to show compassion and empathy once they understand us. By slowing down and choosing the most accurate words to describe our internal experience, we can use our words to create a more compassionate world.