Sunday, March 30, 2008

21. Speak simply, clearly, firmly, directly.

Good evening, ladies. Here is Carolyn, with some wonderful advice:

“But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No’. For whatever is more than this is from the evil one.” Matthew 5:37

“Set a watch O Lord before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.” Psalm 140:3

Excerpt from Letters to a Beginner from Abbess Thaisia of Leushino

Letter 9: On idle talk and gossip.

Deeply rooted in people is the love of idle talk, i.e., empty, unnecessary conversations, and it has become a beloved pastime among them. It seems we don’t know and don’t believe that idle talk is a sin, and a serious sin, which gives birth to a multitude of other sins: quarrels, conflicts, gossip, slander, condemnation, calumny and the like. Indeed, all the various confusions which fill the human life to overflowing, all the disturbances of the inner quiet of the soul, have as their source this same idle talk, which has crept into all of everyday life, as though it were its indispensable property and requirement. If any sin or any passion knows how to clothe itself in an attractive form, it is precisely—idle talk.

It begins under the pretext of conversing, of discussing some business, but then we proceed imperceptibly to an altogether unnecessary, empty and sinful conversation. Like a deeply rooted infection, this sickness does not easily submit to healing. It has penetrated all layers of social and private life; It is active in people of every age and gender, every class and social position, and has not even spared monasteries.

In our words, which we regard so carelessly, so thoughtlessly, will be either your justification or condemnation, as our Lord Jesus Christ Himself says: “I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the Day of Judgment. By thy words thou shall be justified, and by thy words thou shall be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-7) If even one idle word will be subject to accounting in the day of judgment, then to what condemnation and punishment will we be subject, who talk idly continually and constantly, restrained neither by place nor time, nor by the presence of outsiders, who perhaps even against their will, we make participants in our empty conversations, and in such a manner draw them into sin? So by drawing them into sin we are subject to a double condemnation- both of idle talk and for being a cause of temptation, for woe, it is said, to that man by whom the offense cometh. (Matthew 18:7)

I think the world would be a much calmer place if this maxim was practiced by more people. Learning how to talk takes practice like everything else, if you want to get good at it. I work with someone that talks so much that I don’t have to talk, except to interrupt him and give him something to do. Then I hope that it will take a long time so that I get a little quiet. Otherwise I spend a lot of time by myself, so I don’t get a lot of practice. So, Coffee Hour would be quite a challenge for me, to know and stop before I “proceed imperceptibly to an altogether unnecessary, empty and sinful conversation." I find that when I talk too much, I am saying things that really don’t need to be said. Just because I can say it, doesn’t mean someone else really has to hear it.


Doanh said...

Brilliant! This maxim flows right into the one where it exorts us to be simple, small, quiet, and hidden. Indeed, if you are simple, small, quiet, and hidden, it will be very sensible and agreeable for you not to engage in idle talk.

Michele said...

This maxim screamed at me! I translated this in regards to my words to my children. How I fail! Consistency is such a chore when you have a difficult child and then somehow the "easy" child gets ignored. Lord Have Mercy. May the Lord keep us consistent in the training of our children.

Frederica said...

This is a hard one for me to figure out. I think the reason (or maybe excuse) is that I want people to be comfortable around me. And I know people who feel awkward or don't know what to say are put at ease by someone who keeps the conversation going in a gentle way. So I do "make conversation" even when I don't have much interest in the topic. Might this maxim bump up against the one about listening to others? Because it helps others to know they've been heard if you echo what they say and ask questions. And it helps awkward people to relax if you just make conversation that they can participate in. But I saw an Orthodox woman at a reception once simply remain silent as another Orthodox woman came up with lots of gushing and excited talk. I responded to the new woman by matching her, thinking that I would put her at ease. But I wondered if the silent woman was doing the right thing--that it is better to be silent even if it makes people uncomfortable. I don't know what to think about this.

jocelyn said...

To me, this maxim means to not cloud your communication with double meanings or to read too much into what others say. It's so easy to get caught up in undercurrents, to make things political, and to not say what you truly mean or what is in your heart.

I feel strongly that we're under obligation to reach deep within ourselves and find the best way to say what we mean to others, to not waste their time. By doing so we offer create clarity, truthfulness, and trust.

Often, especially in relationships I value highly, I try to hide what it is I'm truly saying, if I'm worrying that it's at odds with another's desires or hopes. But by squelching or putting off or being roundabout, I'm really making things more complicated, and being dishonest with myself and them.

The Forty Maxims

  • 1. Be always with Christ and trust God in everything.
  • 2. Pray, fast and do acts of mercy.
  • 3. Read the Scriptures regularly.
  • 4. Read good books, a little at a time.
  • 5. Practice silence, inner and outer.
  • 6. Cultivate communion with the saints.
  • 7. Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.
  • 8. Live a day, even a part of a day, at a time.
  • 9. Be honest, first of all with yourself.
  • 10. Be faithful in little things.
  • 11. Do your work, then forget it.
  • 12. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
  • 13. Face reality.
  • 14. Be grateful.
  • 15. Be cheerful.
  • 16. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
  • 17. Never bring unnecessary attention to yourself.
  • 18. Listen when people talk to you.
  • 19. Be awake and attentive, fully present where you are.
  • 20. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
  • 21. Speak simply, clearly, firmly, directly.
  • 22. Flee imagination, fantasy, analysis.
  • 23. Flee carnal things at their first appearance.
  • 24. Don’t complain, grumble, murmur or whine.
  • 25. Don’t seek or expect pity or praise.
  • 26. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
  • 27. Don’t judge anyone for anything.
  • 28. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
  • 29. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
  • 30. Be defined and bound by God, not people.
  • 31. Accept criticism gracefully and test it carefully.
  • 32. Give advice only when asked or when it is your duty.
  • 33. Be strict with yourself.
  • 34. Be merciful with yourself and others.
  • 35. Do nothing for people that they can do for themselves.
  • 36. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
  • 37. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
  • 38. Endure the trial of yourself and your faults serenely, under God’s mercy.
  • 39. When you fall, get up immediately and start over.
  • 40. Get help when you need it, without fear or shame.