Thinking, is considered to be one of the three mega skills that a human possesses, along with writing and speaking. I remember learning the teachings of a simple but wise sage when I was growing up.
‘Words should be used sparingly, like milk, not like water’ and ‘even the truth, though sometimes difficult to digest, should be delivered with empathy, compassion and in a constructive way.’ - Yogiji Maharaj
This wisdom pervades across all ancient teachings, with vows of silence, training us to use words sparingly, with purpose and more wisely, but also as a means to allow us the space to reflect on our own ‘inner conversations’. In today’s world of instant messaging, it is easy to get sucked into thinking we always have to respond instantly.
Parables and stories are there to help bring a deeper meaning to us and so I’d like to share a story which I’ve shared with those who’ve found themselves ‘losing it’ in the heat of the moment.
There was once a wonderful country house, with a beautiful wooden door. Behind the doors, lived a couple with their son who like most kids his age, struggled from time to time to control his tongue. He was lovely most of the time, but sometimes, he'd get 'hangry' or become frustrated in not getting his own way. At these times, he'd let his rage out and would lash out with hurtful words. Often after he’d calmed down, he’d regret it and say sorry, but his relationships became strained. This became a pattern, but his father was determined to help his son change his ways.
One day, he noticed his son standing outside his house and admiring how beautiful the wooden door was. His father noticed this and saw this as a chance to try a different approach. He said, ‘son, I love you and I know you don’t mean to get angry, so can I suggest something that can help you?
"Every time you lose your temper or are rude to someone, I want you to hammer a nail into that door."
Curious and confused, the son asked how that would help, but his father merely said to trust him and so, they agreed.
From that day, every time the boy was rude or ‘hangry’, he hammered a nail into the door. One day, the father found his son sitting on the porch of the house, with the hammer in his hand, crying. His father sat down next to him and asked him what was upsetting him. That’s when the son opened up and said, “Dad, this was a really beautiful door. Look how horrible it looks now.” What started off as just another nail, ended up covering the whole door. “Son, that’s what you do to your relationships, each time you lose your temper, the relationships become damaged over time, one nail at a time” said his father.
“I want it back to how it was!” the son replied. His father smiled and hugged him. Patiently and in a soft voice, he said, “Yes, you’re right, that door isn’t what it used to be. Each nail represents a time when you lost your temper. This is what is happening with all the people you love. Do you think that’s a good thing?”. Immediately realizing what his father meant, the son realized his mistake. He felt horrible about hurting people with his words and promised to never lash out again.” So then his father said, “Alright son, from now on, every time you feel that urge to lash out, remember this door. Every time you stay calm, you can take one nail out”.
Slowly but surely, with a few setbacks along the way, the nails came out. Some were harder than others, but the little boy persisted because he wanted his beautiful door to come back.
After all the nails were removed, the son still looked sad and so, the father asked him why.
“Father, the nails are gone, but there are so many holes in the door. It doesn’t look as beautiful as it was”.
Calmly the father replied, “Understand this my son, every time you say something harsh, or hurtful, just like the nail, it leaves a mark on the person you lash out at just like the nail has left its mark on the door. But if you really want to make it right, it’s going to take time and more effort, you’re going to have to fill each hole, sand it down until it’s smooth and then paint over it, so that the door really looks like the old beautiful door again”. Again, understanding the second lesson he quietly agreed and patiently set about repairing the ‘scars’ and holes in the door..
Many days, weeks and months went by, as the boy worked on repairing that door. In the process it taught him the most valuable lesson of all. He learned that words leave a lasting impression, and once said, cannot be simply taken back.
He realized that it’s better to Think Twice and Speak Once than to shoot from the hip.
He also learned to appreciate others better and the power of positive and kind words in building better relationships.
Whether at home or at work, most of us can recognize glimpses of this young boy when we look in the mirror. It’s never too late to change the patterns, to make good for the harshness of our words, but be prepared to invest the time and effort.
Lasting Change is a series of small steps continued over a long time, so start today.
Try the 2:1 Ratio in your conversations – twice as much listening as talking and see what happens. The same applies with emails and messages.
In a business setting, people soon find out the hard way that speaking or writing before thinking can have dire and long-lasting implications..
Building in a Pause for thought allows us to ‘listen and understand’ better, to find common ground, to empathize and to build lasting relationships and dialogue.
Finally, a great habit I’ve formed, is to draft any important emails or messages and then to sleep on them, or at least pause for a couple of hours while I let the ‘heat’ of the moment subside. It’s amazing how many times, I’ve ended up rephrasing the content to ensure that I get my point across in a way that ensures I ‘mean’ what I say and don’t burn bridges.
Why don’t you try this and let me know how it works for you?