There is an old Arab proverb that everything you write or speak should pass through three gates: Is this kind? Is this necessary? Is this true?
Full Disclosure: the proverb cited above is NOT the one I meant to write about today. But. given the disagreement I’ve had with a family member this weekend (via FaceBook e-mail) when that proverb appeared on my computer screen this a.m., it seemed like a missive from heaven. I’m reminded of what one VN member wrote a couple of weeks ago in response to another post: that the message comes ‘when the student is ready.’
Well, I’m the student, and maybe I’m ready….
When I sat down at the computer this morning, I meant to write about a Sanskrit proverb. I was looking up the etymology of the word ‘proverb’ in the online Cambridge Dictionary when this Arabic proverb appeared on my screen. As an aside, the etymology of ‘proverb’ comes from old French, meaning ‘more than a word,’ a pretty ho hum etymology. Not nearly as interesting as the etymology of the word ‘poppycock’ which my father told me many years ago, as he sat in his rocking chair next to the fireplace in the kitchen.
It seems that ‘poppy’ is derived from the same ancient Sanskrit word as is the English word ‘pabulum,’ meaning something soft and mushy. ‘Cock’ comes from the same Sanskrit root as does ‘caca’ in Spanish, which is an indelicate word for excrement….in another word, ‘shit.’ So, as my father explained this one to me when I was a teenager, poppycock is something so utterly worthless that “it’s not even a good hard shit, it’s soft shit.” (Quoting Daddy here…he was always my best teacher!)
Well, when I read that Arabic proverb, it struck me that few of our communications, uttered or written, can pass through all three of those gates.
The first gate I consistently fail is, “Is this necessary?” I’m sure a lot of what I say day in and day out is utter crap, empty chatter, unnecessary noise, soft shit, in a word ‘poppycock.’ But isn’t poppycock sort of the sound track of life, the continual inner chatter of the mind which most of us are powerless to control, at least at our current level of consciousness? And that chatter WILL breach the gate and pass my lips….I know it’s so.
And about the gate of truth, who amongst us knows what is true? Remember those graphs in high school algebra, where we plotted points on the ‘x’ and ‘y’ axes? The world is a vast, infinitely complicated graph and we’re all a bunch of dots occupying billions of widely scattered points. Then to make matters worse, everything and everybody is continually in motion, so the field is never stable. Mind boggling! So the field I see from my point of view can never match what you see from your point of view. It’s impossible! (The strangest part is that not one of us can see ourselves!) We’re all captives to our own unique point of view ensuring that no one has a monopoly on what is ultimately true.
The last gate is kindness. It seems to me that’s the only gate we can really control. It’s probably the most important gate too. Every major world religion has some expression of the Law of Reciprocity, the universally recognized rule for right and wrong behavior. Many of us know it as the Golden Rule, expressed by Jesus: “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.”
So, I’m going to TRY to remember not to say or write anything that I would not want said or written to me. That’s hard. Especially in the free wheeling, no holds barred environment of the world wild web where anonymity grants a permissiveness not customary in face to face encounters.
My great grandmother, a simple but wise woman from Sugar Tree, Tennessee had it right: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
Be Well and Good Luck,
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