Plain Speaking

I was very struck by this morning’s reading from the Rule of St Benedict, chapter 7, verses 60 to 61, the eleventh step of humility. How many people do you know who ‘speak gently and without mockery, humbly and seriously, in a few well-chosen words’? The picture those words paint is of a plainness and simplicity we have come to associate in this country with the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) — which may be one reason why the links between us are so strong. But I think monks and nuns have always known something about this business of plain speaking, though our take on it may not be the same as most people’s.

What we say bubbles up from the heart, and if the heart is quiet and gentle, then our words will be, too. Gentleness is not weakness, though many think it is, nor is quietness mere absence of sound. A quiet and gentle heart is not attained through accident, nor through a kind of mental and moral floppiness. If we wish to live this eleventh step of humility, we must first purify our hearts — sometimes even pacify them! — and set ourselves the hard task of disciplining our thoughts as well as our tongues. Some people delight in using plain speaking as an excuse for the wounds they deal others. I think our plain speaking should come as balm in a world where the smart soundbite and the cruel or mendacious word are only too common. That doesn’t mean we should falsify anything or deny the truths we believe and live by, rather the reverse. Our speech should be such that others can rely on us to say what we mean and mean what we say, but we should do so with the grace that comes from God. ‘A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.’ That, surely, is something to aim at in all our doings.

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