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Is it true, kind and helpful?

By September 18, 2008websites

The other day I was reading a book by Krishnamurti, one of his first books called ‘At the Feet of The Master’, and there was a short passage that struck me deeply. He cautioned that “you must guard against certain small desires which are common in daily life,” such as the desire to appear clever. Krishnamurti suggested that “it is better to speak little; better to say nothing, unless you are quite sure that what you wish to say is true, kind and helpful.”

That’s very profound advice. If I followed it then of course I would indeed speak very little, probably to the point of not having a blog. Why would that be so, you might ask?

Well, for starters, how much of what I ‘think I know’ is really true? Beyond my own feelings, which sometimes elude me, how much can I really speak about with great certainty? And even if I know something why should I say anything about it to someone else unless I can say it in a thoughtful way? Finally, even if I can shape my statement properly, what if the person I’m speaking to is not ready to hear what I have to say?

So, to speak properly three things all have to come together: (1) I know something true, (2) that I am able to express compassionately, and (3) which is helpful to the person I’m expressing it to. Can you see how this bodes ill for having a blog? Even if I meet criteria numbers 1 and 2, I have no way of knowing who I am speaking to because my audience is too varied.

For example, yesterday I wrote about why I didn’t feel like voting in elections anymore. I have felt this way for several months now. But I chose to announce this feeling on my blog yesterday because I wanted to make note of Scott Adams’ recently poll of economists. If I were going to vote then this is the sort of information that I would parse closely to help shape my view. I’m glad that Scott Adams was willing to take the time and spend the money to do this research, and he seems to have done it simply to raise the level of debate about who should be president.

I tried to advance my views in a non-threatening way, and at the same time make people aware of the poll underwritten by Scott Adams. But I can see that my post was too provocative. Someone left a comment to my post telling me that I needed to ‘take my head out of my ass’ which I assume was an expression of his view that I should vote (and apparently from his comments I gather he believes that Obama is the obvious choice based on ability to improve the economy).

Obviously, what I said was not helpful to this person. Of course, I could simply disallow comments like that but what would be the point? Maybe he’s right about Obama and I should listen to what he has to say. I didn’t mind his comment, which is why I approved it. But I keep asking myself: what is the point of having this blog?

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  • Louis Giansante says:

    Rather than stop blogging maybe you should stop reading books by Krishnamurti.

    Lou Giansante

  • Scheherazade says:

    Ernie, I think about this a lot, too.

    For a while now my guiding instincts have been to run words and actions through this test: be honest, be kind, and be brave. So being brave makes me willing to speak out even though there is a risk that it won’t be liked or understood. Being kind makes me think about my own motivations, and try to anticipate impact, and not speak out of turn. And be honest is to try to tell the word a little bit about what things feel like and seem like to me. Maybe the cumulative effect will be helpful. To me that filter is a tough one — I’m not sure I’m in a position to judge, very often, whether silence or words will help more.

    I think it’s worth lending your voice to the world because an intentional life, lived with openness, makes an impact on those who see it. By blogging, you show it to people who don’t live right where you do. And this is a kindness to people like me, who learn from you. And secondarily, I get to glimpse a place and a people and a life experience far different from my own, which helps my imagination. So thank you for that, too.

    I hope you’ll keep speaking.

  • Winky Glover says:

    I first heard this exact same advice in a recovery group meeting and the person sharing had read it in the AA magazine “the Grapevine.” When I remember to practice testing my thoughts and intended words through the “filter” of are they truthful, kind and helpful, I have been amazed at how much less I speak and how different my conversations and engagements are: qualitatively better. I only wish I remembered to practice this more often.

    Thank you for the reminder.


  • ken says:

    “A man says to the computer..’There is no god, I have never believed in god.’

    The computer says,’You have it now’.”

    Krishnamurti 9-1-1983

  • Bryan Sims says:

    Ernie, I hope you don’t stop blogging. I thought your post yesterday hit the nail on the head. Although I am not taking the position that I am not going to vote (even if my vote doesn’t count in a literal sense of actually affecting the results, I do want to cast it), I do agree with your assessment of the current state of poltics in this country.

    Politics has become so divided along party lines that most people never think about any issues, they just reflexively parrot the party line, regardless of how stupid it is. The thing that really scares me is that we have a large segment of the population that its making its voting decision based upon the political ads airing on television.

    I too share your concern about participating in a process in which the majority of the people choose ignorance over knowledge. Unfortunately I have not yet seen a way of effectively combating this.

    I guess what I am saying is that I entirely understand your position on not voting. I just wish that our current state of politics was not such a mess that your position starts to look reasonable.

  • Ernie says:

    I understand what each of you are saying, and I appreciate your taking the time to say it so thoughtfully (except for Milo who inclines toward judgmental language –e.g. insinuating my approach is ‘childlike’ in a pejorative way, rather than a salutary way). First, let me say I’m not in any way proclaiming that I’m giving up blogging (although I’m frankly not as enthusiastic about it these days, and that’s a feeling that has been lingering for several months now).

    I am weary, however, of the pettiness that I see across most parts of our society. The political sphere is inundated with it, and that’s why I decline to devote energy to it. The truth is my vote won’t make any difference in the outcome of the election. True, my vote would be registered in the tally of the ‘popular vote’ but that’s not significant to my view. I flat out abhor the sniping and the snarling which completely dominates the so called ‘political debate.’ So, that’s why I’m not interested in politics.

    I’m also becoming less interested in the discourse of the ‘blogosphere.’ When I first started paying attention, which is to say ‘when I first started blogging’, I was captivated by the idea that the barriers to communication had been lowered. This I thought (naively, I’ll admit now), would lead to a new framework for discussion and that in turn would lead to a better form of communication. Sadly, I find that is not the case.

    As blogging has become more mainstream it is filled with people who are focused on certain ideas, which in and of itself is fine. Still, I remember reading political blogs in the early days where conservative bloggers would acknowledge the good points of liberal bloggers, and vice-versa. There was, at least among the accomplished political bloggers, a sense of mutual respect that mostly seemed to cross ideology. That has changed, and now it is less common to see that kind of respect. All in all the discourse has (at least in my view) significantly degraded, to the point where I feel more like I’m listening to talk radio where the host speaks to his most passionate followers, and less like a civil discussion among intellectually curious writers.

    I’ve never had a niche for my blog, nor have I desired to have one. But, increasingly I find myself avoiding certain topics (such as politics) altogether. Not because I’m afraid of criticism or disagreement, but because I don’t want to observe in my own corner that which I seek to avoid contact with in other quarters. It’s very hard to write down what one thinks, or at least it is for me. The reason it’s hard for me, is that in the process of writing I stumble across all kinds of obstacles. I realize, often, that my thoughts are unclear. Sometimes, I realize that I’ve failed to consider an important point. And in the end, always, I realize that even if I consider all viewpoints and craft my words carefully, I probably will miscommunicate or -worse- misunderstand what I am trying to say.

    I appreciate the feedback I get, sometimes immediately and sometimes only after reflection. Even when I disagree with a commenter I still like the idea of hearing back from people who read the blog. But I seem to face an obstacle that keeps me from appreciating certain comments, namely those that are written in what seems to me to be a smug and offhand way. These types of comments remind me of the rancorous discourse that pervades TV commentary, talk radio and -sadly- the world of weblogs. I would rather not encounter these comments as they deflate my fragile optimism for what our society is capable of.

    How we speak to one another is not a trivial thing. And while our modern civilization is capable of many great things, and has at its disposal many wonderful technological tools (including the Internet), it seems that our civility has declined. If that doesn’t bother people then perhaps it’s for the best, or maybe I’m completely wrong and the level of discourse is at an all-time high. But, for now I’m saddened by what I see and I’d just as soon avoid seeing any more of it.

  • milo says:

    Please accept my apology for using inappropriate language to express my view.

    My concern, however, was that I read your post and the thought that was conveyed to me was that you were unable to make a choice in the upcoming election. Coming from a person capable of expressing coherent thoughts using common grammar, I find this to be a childlike view of one’s adult responsibilities and gifts as a citizen of a republic. Even more so when expressed by someone with your obvious education and talents.

    When I go into the voting booth this November, I will be presented with essentially a multiple choice question. I can only give one answer (none of the above is unacceptable to me as a citizen). In 2000, some said that the two major candidates were virtually indistinguishable. Does anyone honestly think that given the past eight years those thoughts were accurate?

    Eight years on, we get to choose again, do you think that the two major candidates are indistinguishable? That their Vice Presidential choices are indistinguishable? Clearly the candidates see the choices and policies from different starting points, ethical considerations, acceptable solutions, etc. Is it really the case that you cannot see these differences? Do you really believe that they will produce similar outcomes?

    I can’t believe that someone who is capable of studying the law, reading opinions to determine holdings, distinguishing facts, interpreting laws, regulations, and rules cannot divine any difference between the choices presented in a presidential election.

  • Tad Bartlett says:

    Whether what you have to say is “helpful” to someone is not the same question as whether what you have to say is appreciated by someone. As David Canton points out above, a blog entry has value (i.e., is “helpful”) if it makes people think. You can’t gauge your level of helpfulness based on the level of agreeability in the response, but I do think the intensity of the disagreement in a response is one (of many) measurements of how helpful your post was in spurring thought.

  • Dean says:

    Perhaps … only perhaps, if you use your blog to explore so you can learn so you can speak with the certainty you desire that would be putting your blog to good use. More important though how would you ever know with the certainty what the truth really. Truth is on shifting sands is seems to me. And even if you knew “the” truth how would you know what might be helpful to the person you are expressing it to? What it what you had to say was important / useful to one person and not important / useful to another? Do you hold back because of the one for which you comments may have no utility? The standards you are trying to use while admirable seem like they could lead to some difficult behavior patterns.

    From my standpoint, the point then of your blog is presumably to explore the edges of your truth. It would seem you could only do this by testing it against others. And you do it mindfully / thoughfully and with compassion, which I think you do.

  • David Canton says:

    I have 2 comments.

    First, that advice reminds me of the saying that its better to remain silent and let everyone think you are a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

    Second, I don’t think your post was in that category. Sometimes blog entries are just to make people think – and to express points of view that may not be mainstream or popular.

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