The Three Questions

*Talk presented by Rich Hayes at Unitarian Church, Pittsfield MA


"Write the wrongs that are done to you in sand, but write the good things that happen to you on a piece of marble. Let go of all emotions such as resentment and retaliation, which diminish you, and hold onto the emotions, such as gratitude and joy, which increase you.

--Arabic proverb

"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other."
-Mother Teresa

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me”

I remember my Mom telling me this when I first started school and ran into some kids giving me a hard time and making fun of me. I wanted to believe her, but the words did hurt despite what she told me.
Eventually, even though I knew how this felt, I found myself at times doing the very thing to others that had been done to me.

Words can do great harm.

My guess is that most of us (probably all of us) have been hurt at some point in our life by something that someone said to us, or what they said
about us that eventually got back to us.
And I’d also guess that most of us have said something at sometime that we wish we never said.

And there have probably also been times when we have said something that has hurt or angered someone else, totally unintentional on our part, but more or less in the service of “small” talk or general conversation, never really meaning what we said.

I think a lot of suffering happens in the world because of this.

I once heard Wayne Dyer talk about the 3 questions he asks himself before he says something.
Is it True?
Is it Necessary?
Is it Kind?

Of these, he said, the first is an absolute-if you don’t know something to be true, don’t say it! You may find that eliminates a lot.

The other two have a little more flexibility. Sometimes something isn’t necessary, but in saying it, a kindness has been served, and certainly the world needs kindness, so the more we can spread this the better.

And then sometimes it is necessary to say something that is true but may hurt someone’s feelings, and we may struggle with feeling unkind in saying it.

We need to walk softly here and make sure our intention is truly for that person’s well being. As an example, a friend may be indulging in a destructive behavior that is causing harm. In reality by speaking to them (which may feel uncomfortable) you are doing a kindness, even if it may not be received in this way (initially).
But whatever is said, it should be said compassionately.
At a time like this, say what you mean, just don’t say it mean.

He said that unless 2 and preferably all 3 of these questions are answered “yes” he doesn't say it. Period!

What we’re talking about here is really mindfulness: cultivating an awareness and paying attention to what you’re about to say and why.

By adopting this three question approach, just think of all the things you might never have to regret!!!

Overtime practicing this can lead to some profound changes within you. You’ll become aware of the chatter and small talk as you start to do it-or you may for the very first time realize that you actually
do this( even though you’d swear you didn’t!); all just by paying attention and asking yourself these 3 questions.

When I first started doing this, I remember how uneasy it felt when I didn’t "fill" space with words when I was in the company of other people.
It was as if by not talking I was somehow not being social or connecting, that I was odd. The silence felt very scary and awkward.. But I found myself listening more to others and I become more comfortable within myself in the “space” …and it seemed others picked up on this, and they also relaxed.

By using the 3 questions I would choose not to get into some of that talk that really serves no good purpose-the gossip or criticizing or complaining.

I found that some of the people who like to engage in this kind of thing didn’t seek me out anymore, while others followed my lead and found other things to talk about with me, and sometimes wonderful and deep conversations ensued. I doubt these would have happened had we stayed on the “surface” with the gossip and small talk.

I don’t want you to think that I’m saying we shouldn’t speak up about things that need changing or are blatantly wrong.
Many things call for us to raise our voice and be heard, but we need to also raise our hearts and our minds as well-we need to go higher, not lower, coming from a place of love and compassion rather than superiority and righteousness..
Again using the 3 questions can help clarify this.

In many of the Native American traditions it is believed that when you are born into this life you are given a set number of words to use, and when you have spoken that number your time here is over.
Idle chatter and small talk was not big with the Native people. Words mattered, and truth was greatly valued. They regarded words as something finite-a resource not to be used lightly or squandered.

Speaking less, we can learn to listen more. People respond differently when they
feel listened to. I didn’t say agreed with-just listened to and heard. It is hugely powerful! It is something I’ve seen time and again in the work I do as hospice chaplain. Sometimes just knowing you’ve been listened to seems to release something within, and in this a shift-or even a transcending can occur. And in this, change becomes possible.

The challenge we all face in our current, media driven, 24/7 news-cycle inundated world, is not to become overwhelmed, lose hope and throw our hands up; or to become reactionary and dysfunctional. We can chose and we need to remember this! We do not have to engage in this steady diet delivered to us via our electronic devices, we can turn it off and practice discernment in what comes into our mind.

We can become mindful about our part in things because in truth this is the only thing that we have control over-all the other stuff we may do is distraction and avoidance. Willingness is essential. All you need to do is become willing to change the one thing that can change everything: You.

The only way this world can really change is one person at a time, and you are the only one who has the power to do this. Gandhi pointed us to the solution when he instructed us to be the change we wished to see in the world, as did Jesus and Buddha and all the great teachers.
And this calls for us to be willing to change and let go of those things that cause us to suffer.

Ram Dass said, “The quieter you become, the more you can hear”
By incorporating these 3 questions and making them a part of your life, you will not only hear more, you will change not only in how you relate to others, but even more importantly, in how you relate to yourself. Quite simply you will find you feel better about yourself and that always, always translates out to others.

It’s that simple, but as we all know: simple does not mean easy.
But great things seldom are.
Start with these questions and see where they take you.

As Anne Frank reminds us:
"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single minute
before starting to improve the world."

So, now is your chance and the world is waiting.
Thank you