Lately I’ve been slowly reading through a book called “The Art of Communicating” by Thich Nhat Hanh. Why would I read such a book? Well, because I often feel like I’m pretty terrible at accurately communicating my thoughts to people. When it comes to the written word, when I have time to think about exactly what I want to say, it comes out pretty good most of the time. But, there are instances where I feel helpless to communicate exactly what I am trying to say even then. I tend to write very haphazardly as well. While I’m writing a post such as this one, I will go back and insert a new sentence or paragraph here or there, or decide a different order works better and copy and paste things around. So when it comes to speaking, where I only have one shot at it, I just am not as good. I tend to hang on to whatever I have to say perhaps a little bit too long as I think it over before I actually say it. I think this certainly CAN be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing. At the very least I rarely blurt out anything that I immediately regret.
Anyway, I saw this book and was interested as I had found the only other book of his I had read “Living Buddha, Living Christ” to be pretty interesting, and so I thought it might be beneficial. And I was right… although I feel like it hasn’t really addressed things I was expecting it to (at least not yet, I’m only about half way through.)
I like the idea he expresses that the goal of all communication should be to cause the other person to suffer less. I’m not sure this should be applied to literally all communication, but certainly in most of our personal conversations with friends. family, and acquaintances this seems like a pretty good goal. At the very least, being mindful of how your words are effecting those hearing them is a valuable thing.
Last night I read through a chapter on “mantras”. If you aren’t familiar with Thich Nhat Hanh, he is a Buddhist, and so much of the book comes from a Buddhist perspective, though he often invites or suggests you think of things in other terminology if that suits you better. In any case, he refers to these mantras as “magic formulas”. I don’t know if he really means it in a literal sense, but if he does, and I get the feeling that he does, I don’t really agree with that. However, I can see the benefit of all of them, and I could see how they could be something akin to a magic formula in terms of their being extremely likely to bring about a desired effect if used appropriately.
All of these mantras are simple phrases that are meant to be said to another person. He starts with things like “I am here for you” and then, “I know you are there, and I am very happy.” They are mainly about acknowledging the value of the other person and their importance to you. Now, they also strike me as things that would often seem quite weird if carried out exactly as he suggests. But I think the principles behind them are quite worth learning from.
He gives a total of 6 of these mantras, and the one that I found to be the most striking is the 6th one. “You are partly right.” This one is a bit different than the others, as it is meant to be said in reply to praise or criticism. It’s about a balance between false humility and hubris. Depending on the person, it can be easy to think very highly of one self to the point of arrogance, and for others, and I must admit I fall into this camp, it can be very easy to think very little of themselves, to the point of self deprecation. This mantra is about recognizing and admitting the truth to yourself in either circumstance. Whether the person sees good or bad in us: “You are partly right. You know that I have other things in me too.” He goes on to write “So we accept ourselves with all our weaknesses, and then we have peace. We don’t judge ourselves; we accept. I have these qualities and these weaknesses, but I will try to improve slowly, at my speed. If you can look at yourself like that, you can look at others like that too, without judgment. Even if that person has many weaknesses, he also has many talents, many positive things. No one is without positive qualities. So when others judge you wrongly, you have to say that they are partly right but they have not seen the other parts of you. The other person only sees part of you, not the totality, so you don’t have to be unhappy at all.”
For some reason, it’s hard (for me at least) to give yourself credit for your positive qualities. There is only a focus on the things that you’re not good at. Then any time someone points out one of those things, it stings all the more. This is definitely something I want to work on… to be mindful of the good things about me as well as the bad. And then especially to recognize when someone else only sees part of me… and then with that hopefully I will realize that I “don’t have to be unhappy at all.”