The Right Speech

“As my teacher once said, ‘If you can’t control your mouth, there’s no way you can hope to control your mind.’ This is why right speech is so important in day-to-day practice.”

– Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Children are like sponges, they soak up what they hear and then repeat it to others.

I don’t normally discuss religion with others, since it’s such a personal issue for many people. BUT I do believe it has valuable lessons to teach us, and can apply here. I teach at a school that holds to Christian values; I consider myself Buddhist. Personally, I don’t see how these conflict (while at school) as both Christianity and Buddhism teach its followers to be compassionate towards others (friends and enemies), not giving over to needless indulgences (irresponsible behavior, excess use of alcohol, illicit sex), and not stealing or harming others.

*I know that Christians believe  in God and that his son, Jesus, is the “savior of the universe”; while I don’t ascribe to that belief, it’s fine if others do. I’m looking at the heart of the teachings of Christianity and not the details here.*

If you are familiar with Christianity, their Ten Commandments have two regarding speech:

  • “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7, ESV)
  • “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16, ESV)


In Buddhism, practitioners follow the five precepts. The fourth precept is this:

I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.

Both religious philosophies ask their followers to be mindful of their words, and how they affect others.

How does this relate to education?images

As teachers, especially elementary teachers, we are probably the next most important adult figure in a child’s life besides his/her parents. Children are in school probably as much as they are home, if not more. That means children see their teachers as another “parent” or “guardian” of sorts. As an elementary teacher, I must be mindful of my words and actions.

Young children pick up a lot of what they hear as they develop linguistically. “Kids say the darndest things!” Well, that’s true! You may never know what your students will repeat after hearing something.

The “Right Speech” in the Buddhist sense, urges followers to ask themselves five questions before speaking.

  1. Do I speak at the right time, or not?
  2. Do I speak facts, or not?
  3. Do I speak gently or harshly?
  4. Do I speak profitable words, or not?
  5. Do I speak with a kindly heart, or inwardly malicious?

These are excellent questions to reflect upon, both in the classroom or outside it. Many times, students may want to talk with their teachers in between classes, if they have a problem they can’t tell their parents, or just want to develop a better relationship. Teachers really do hold a special place in the hearts of students.

In Christianity, their God calls his believers to not take his name in vain (swearing) or lying about their neighbor. While it’s very tempting (and perhaps therapeutic) to swear when you’re angry, or stressed out because there are only two months of school left and you’re behind in the curriculum, STOP and ask yourself these questions:

  1. What if my students heard me swear?
  2. What if a parent is around to hear me?
  3. How will my words affect my coworkers or students?
  4. Are my words truthful?
  5. Will my words build others up, or tear them down?

It’s important to put things into a larger perspective. As I work hard to be more mindful of my own words and actions, I urge you, too, to do the same. As teachers we are held to a high standard at school by parents, administrators, and more importantly, our students. I’d like to close with this quote by Thanissaro Bhikkhu:

So pay close attention to what you say — and to why you say it. When you do, you’ll discover that an open mouth doesn’t have to be a mistake.

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Filed under Buddhism, Education, Kids, Mindfulness, Religion, Self Reflection, Speech, Teaching

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