a) have no intention of following through with it ,or
b) mean well, but don’t respect ourselves or others by following through on what we’ve said.
When we say stuff we don’t really mean we lose our power and fall out of integrity. “But it’s only something small!”, you say. Well, these little breaches in our speech are like pin holes in a tire, eventually they will leave you (and those around you) feeling flat. This holds true whether they are commitments we make to others or to ourselves.
In Buddhism there is a concept of Right Speech which is part of the Eightfold Path. The teaching is that “If your speech is not useful and beneficial, teachers say, it is better to keep silent.” Yet in our daily lives how often are you (or myself for that matter) able to keep silent rather than add our $.02? It is not our natural state, let’s put it that way. That is why we say all kinds of nice things to fill the silence. Things like “we should get together”, “let’s do lunch sometime”, “I’d really love to do x”, or “let’s not lose touch”. While sometimes we really mean it, a lot of times it is nothing but fluff. Like a magical sugary whip of cotton candy it has little substance and isn’t very good for us. I might add it isn’t very beneficial to others either because it often sets expectations or gets someone’s hopes up in a false manner. Bit by bit the solid pillar of integrity chips away. The integrity in our relationships with ourselves and others crumbles to the ground.
In one of my favorite books The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, the first agreement is “Be Impeccable with Your Word”. This is all about the power of right speech. Of using the power of the word, your word in a way that is kind and for your highest good and the highest good of others. Words can build up or destroy. Use them wisely. Given the difficulty of this and our human nature, fortunately the second agreement from this same book is “Don’t Take Anything Personally”. A wise connection indeed.
We often just speak words unconsciously in our exchanges. Rarely do we stop and think about what we say. That is why so often people say something and don’t mean it. Over time their word becomes worthless. Integrity is questionable. Successful people on the other hand are masters of their words and speak from a conscious place much more often. If in doubt they stay silent.
There is a lovely quotation from a Hindu and Muslim saint Sai Baba of Shirdi that is excellent advice: “Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence?” (Thanks to Laura Berman Fortgang’s book The Little Book On Meaning for introducing me to the quote.)
This is a much more powerful place to be in. When you’re speaking with intention and integrity you are far more aligned with who you are and what you wish to create. Jack Canfield speaks about this at length in principle 51 of his book The Success Principles. Simple concept, not common practice.
We will never be perfect. This isn’t about some unachievable ideal or beating yourself up or being afraid to give yourself voice. What I do invite you to do, however, is to be far more conscious about what you say. Do you mean what you say? Do you intend to follow through? Is what you’re saying kind? Does it add value to the silence? If not… think twice before you unconsciously utter something hollow.