Rami Shapiro, a rabbi, professor of religion, and author of several books on spiritual development writes that in Hasidic Judaism there is the belief that “each human being is born with a fixed number of words to speak, and when the final word is spoken, the person dies.” (Happy Tuesday!) While there is certainly a sobering truth in this statement, I wonder if there might not be a lighter, less abrasive way to call attention to the words we speak. So as I considered what it means to be more thoughtful not only in what I am saying but how much I am saying, I recalled an acronym I heard recently: W.A.I.T.—Why Am I Talking?
Much of our world values chatter, noise, and distraction, and often devalues contemplation, reflection, and silence. We are addicted to output and filling quiet spaces. But when I stop and consider Why am I talking?, then I have the opportunity to review my motives and decide if what I’m about to say is purposeful, kind and loving, and true.
Am I talking because no one else is and I’m uncomfortable in the silence? Am I talking so someone else can’t? Am I talking because I’m bored? Am I talking because I want to gossip? Am I talking to avoid the truth that resides in a quiet mind? Am I talking because I am trying to control or manipulate a situation? Am I talking because I think I’m right? Am I talking so someone else can’t tell me I’m wrong? Am I talking because I think I haven’t been heard?
Or am I talking because I have something new to add (an idea, a perspective, a fact that has yet to be considered)? Am I talking to clarify a misunderstanding? Am I talking to share a kind, loving, or supportive word? Am I talking to encourage peaceful exchange? Am I talking to work through something that feels otherwise trapped in the confines of my internal monologue? Am I talking because my words will help someone?
Quiet is not a bad thing. Neither is talking. But if we are truly given just one allotment of words in our lifetime, are they being put to good use? It would be unrealistic to aim for never saying an unkind or mis-intentioned word (we're human, after all), but slowing down and easing into the thoughtful calm of a pause allows the space for good intention to edge its way out of the chatter and noise. I can hear so much more when I’m not talking.