It’s hard to know how to speak artfully all the time.  Sometimes I run into trouble with the truth, satyam, it’s called in yoga.  I like to go by the credo “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” But let’s face it, that doesn’t always work.  Sometimes the truth is ugly and has harmful potential.  There is another saying that is a helpful barometer to guide us into knowing when to say something or not; it consists of three questions you should ask yourself before you speak: “Is it truthful? Is it kind? Is it necessary?”  I tried to find the origin or author of this concept with no success.  Anyone know?

I like these questions because it forces me to stop and pay attention to my thoughts and ideas before just blurting them out.  It allows me to analyze the importance of what I have to say.  Just because you’re thinking something doesn’t make it imperative to speak it aloud.  I think with these questions, not all of them can be answered affirmatively before we choose to speak.  Sometimes it’s very necessary to say something even if it’s not kind, like telling your friend he needs to go home right away because his house has been robbed.  It’s the truth, it’s going to make him feel bad, but he definitely needs to know about it.

Things get a little trickier when your best friend gets her hair cut and it’s really not very flattering.  Do you tell her?  If she is asking you your honest opinion, as her friend, I think you owe her a truthful answer.  A good way to deal with those things is to be honest about what is positive (you can always find something), for example, “you have such a beautiful face and that cut doesn’t do you justice”.  It’s truthful (based on your own biased opinion!), it’s kind and it’s necessary as she soliciting your response.

Satya, one of the tenets in yoga, acts as a guideline toward how you are being and acting in the world.  It doesn’t require you tell the truth or else. Instead, it asks you to notice if what you’re saying matches up with what you’re feeling and with what you’re doing?  When you are not in alignment, you can feel it.  That pit-in-the-stomach conflicted feeling permeates your experience often telling you that your choices are not as helpful to creating stillness as they could be.

 “Perhaps nobody yet has been truthful enough about what “truthfulness” is.”

-Friedrich Nietsche