For many of us it is uncomfortable to be brutally honest with people for fear of hurting their feelings. It’s human nature---for most of us anyway! Interestingly, even back in 250 B.C.E. when the Yoga Sūtras were written, truthfulness---satya in Sanskrit---was contemplated. It is one of the 5 yamas, or guiding principles for how to treat others.
Satya encourages us to be honest with ourselves and with others, BUT honesty is NOT the best policy if it would cause harm. This practice builds upon the first yama, ahimsā, which translates to non-harming. Applying ahimsā to the way we speak means that we maintain the intention to be honest, but in a way that does not hurt anyone. Words are such powerful tools, and the yoga philosophy asks that we use them in a way that lifts people up. Your thoughts and words help shape your environment. So speak in ways that create a compassionate, loving life for yourself and those around you.
A good rule of thumb: if it’s not beneficial to say, don’t say it.
Michael Stone, an author, yoga and meditation teacher, psychotherapist and activist, developed a simple process that is helpful to guide us to speak with integrity. We adapted his process into a checklist for you to use the next time you aren’t sure if being honest is the best policy. Before you speak ask yourself the following:
- Is what you want to say truthful? If not, then don’t say it.
- If so, then is it beneficial to the person? If not, then don’t say it. If what you say is harmful to the person, it’s better to say nothing.
- If so, then will the person hear what you have to say? Is the person in the right frame of mind to listen to what you have to say? If the person is angry or rushing out the door late for a meeting, they might not hear you or may take what you say the wrong way. Timing is everything. If not, then wait for an appropriate time.
If it is truthful, beneficial and the timing is right, then say it!
This type of honesty cultivates intimacy that truly connects us, which is really all we want and is at the very heart of yoga. The goal of the yoga practice is to bring awareness to the fact that everything is interconnected---WE ARE ONE!
Try using this process for a week and see what differences it makes for you and your relationships. Take it one step further: share this checklist with those in your life and challenge them to try this process too!