We are seeing a breakdown in communication in the world today. This is highly ironic because we live in an information age in which technology has created hyper connectivity. Everyone is “hooked up” at all times and yet there is very little real communication happening. All spiritual traditions recognize the power of communication. Words both spoken and written, and yes, tweeted, too -are a form of action. They have the power to build, demolish, compel, persuade, control, in fact make or destroy destinies of individuals, communities and nations. SGGS offers a wealth of guidance on communication skills. Jessi Kaur explores the crisis of communication that is resulting in a breakdown of relationships, loneliness and depression, and will discuss how we can change the trajectory by bringing the Guru’s wisdom into our lives.
Body of Paper
Ethical Communication according to Sri Guru Granth Sahib
By Jessi Kaur
Ethical communication is more than ever essential in our diverse global community. Words are a form of action. All spiritual traditions recognize the power of words, and advocate exercising great responsibility in our choice of words.
Sadly, we are witnessing a breakdown of communication in our world today. This is highly ironic because we live in an information age in which technology is making communication faster and cheaper. Everyone is connected via Wi-Fi, internet and social media. Mobile phone, emails, texts, tweets, instagrams are all making instant communication possible. And yet there is very little “meaningful” communication happening. Our connections may have become broader but they are shallower, and our bonds have become weaker.
Civility has slipped in the business world. Forty-three percent Americans report workplace rudeness has become pandemic. The Baylor University study published online in the Journal of Organizational Behavior found that workplace rudeness can follow us home, causing us to unleash inappropriate behavior on our families which in turn perpetuates stress and discord.
A lot is at stake when the human connection through meaningful communication suffers or is broken. At the interpersonal level unethical communication can cause deep wounds and thwart harmonious relationships. The divorce rate has never been so high; one out of two marriages breaks. Mental depression afflicts one out of four Americans. Attention Deficit Disorder in young children is rampant. Hypertension, heart disease, and myriads of psychosomatic illnesses are exploding. In a world full of people, there is loneliness and more sickness than ever.
Ethical communication has the power to heal us and restore harmony in the world. Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) offers a wealth of wisdom to improve our communication through impeccable speech.
Jab lag duniya raheay nanak kichh suniye kichh kaheay (SGGS P 661)
So long as we live in this world we must engage in listening and speaking.
While the above line embodies a reference to the Divine, it also offers an important clue to meaningful dialogue in this world: listening precedes speaking.
Listening with patience without interrupting, absorbing and processing what is being said before jumping to respond is essential to ethical communication. Active listening is being taught by top corporations to ensure better communications between employees. . Institutions that do not promote ethical communication foster corruption.
SGGS also cautions us to the transitory nature of life and human dialogue.
Baba bolte the kahan gayee dehi ke sang rehte
Surat mahen jo nirte karte katha barta kehte (SGGS P 480)
Where are they gone who used to converse? They dwelled in the body, danced with the intellect and engaged in conversation – where are they now?
We have finite time to communicate and make a difference in the world. How can one utilize the opportunity optimally?
The pointers to ethical communication in SGGS are based on goodwill for the entire humanity, truthfulness, righteous action, and a compassionate and respectful response to divergent viewpoints. Peace and order in the world is dependent and contingent upon peace and order in the individuals that make up the world. International conflict can get diffused by wise leaders who communicate ethically.
Also, as practicing Sikhs whose purpose in life as ordained by the Gurus is to become one with the Divine, our interactions need to mirror the essential nature of the Divine. One of the attributes of the Divine is “sweet spoken”.
Mith bolra jee har sajjan swami mora
Haun sammal thaki ji oh kade na bolay kaura (SGGS P 784)
Sweet Spoken is the Divine, my dear beloved
I have gone weary of testing (use a better word instead of testing) but never a harsh word is spoken
The word “sweet” is highly nuanced. Sweet encompasses kind, benevolent, compassionate, respectful, and all shades and variants of that which are pleasing and comforting. Harsh words, on the other hand, cause scars that may not be visible but last a long time.
The Bible says:
The stroke of the whip maketh marks in the flesh: but the stroke of the tongue breaketh the bones. [Ecclesiasticus 28:17 –18]
SGGS states how unethical speech causes pain, strife and suffering:
- 1. Bin preeti kare bahun batan,kurr bol kurroh phal pave (SGGS P 881)
Those who engage in dialogue without love sow the seeds of animosity and reap hostility.
This is precisely what we are witnessing today at many levels. SGGS goes beyond the harsh words to their genesis:
Manmuukh bol na jaanaee, una andar kaam , krodh ahankar (SGGS P 950)
Those who are led by their foolish minds don’t choose their words wisely because they are misguided by lust, anger and arrogance.
- 2. Tooti preet gayee bur bol (SGGS 933)
With foul words they sever the ties of love.
What we think, say and do has consequences. Harsh, unkind words not only negatively impact our relationships; they also have an undesirable impact on the health of our mind and body.
- 3. Nanak phike boleya, tan man phika hoyee (SGGS P 473)
Toxic words make the body and mind toxic.
While anger is a normal human emotion, it must be expressed constructively. When we lash out physically or verbally, become critical and hostile, blame everyone else around us, we are not likely to have successful relationships. While it is not good to repress anger, it is not productive to vent our emotions in foul speech. SGGS advocates “sehaj” or equipoise in our responses to aggravating situations. Forgiveness and empathy are antidotes to anger and successfully temper rage.
SGGS also cautions us against getting embroiled in pointless arguments.
- 4. Kahe janam gavavo vair vaad (SGGS P1176)
Why are you wasting your life in arguments that create conflict?
While it is good to debate ideas and opinions, some people like to argue over the most trivial subjects. They find fault with innocent comments and insignificant situations and put you on the defensive. At work or at home such individuals have a need to be right and keep pushing their viewpoint. They drive people around them crazy by habitually dragging them into pointless arguments. There are no winners in such situations. Arguments rarely solve anything. It is better to diffuse an argument rather than jump into it.
Argumentative people are often narcissistic personalities. When speech is centered in the ego and seeks power or control; it is hurtful and causes conflict.
- 5. Rasna phika bolna nit nit hoyee khuar (SGGS P594)
As long as the tongue utters unkind words, you will wander in pain and misery, says SGGS.
When we hurt someone, we are also hurting our self. Unkind words are intolerant words that degrade the one who utters them and the one who is subjected to them. They can only bring pain.
SGGS offers several valuable principles for ethical communication. Here are a few:
- 1. Sagal bolan ke mahen beechar (SGGS P872)
Reflect before you say anything.
Words are like arrows, once they are released, there is no return. Reflection allows us to pause before we shoot off our mouth. Reflection happens in silence and in stillness. It calms down the need for a hasty knee jerk reaction. Reflection brings poise and opens the door for empathy to enter. We are no more locked into our narrow or even biased viewpoint. We are able to create the space to make a choice. Is our speech going to be mired in blame, competitiveness, manipulation, control, judgment, rationalization or is it going to be centered in humility, kindness, empathy , forgiveness and compassion? Can we consider the possibility of being wrong or entertain a divergent view that may have validity? It is irrelevant whether the divergent view is religious, social or political, reflection allows us to broaden our perspective.
- 2. Sach ure sabo ko, upar sach aacahr (SGGS P 62)
Truth is high, but higher still is truthful living.
Truthfulness is the cornerstone of ethical communication. If our speech is dotted with half-truths, falsehoods or white lies, there is no hope for bringing inner peace or harmony. Lies create a web of deceit that is pernicious and unhealthy. Friendships and relationships are wrecked by lack of honesty and trust. It is a lot simpler to be honest. You don’t have to remember what you said because it will always be the same.
- 3. Manda kise na aakheay, parh akhar eho bujhiye. (SGGS P 473)
Don’t slander anyone. Even when you think it is true; don’t pass on negative information about people. Be respectful of everyone’s reputation.
Ninda Bhali kisi ke nahi manmukh mugadh karan (SGGS P 755)
Muhn kale tinha nindkan narke ghor pavan.
It is foolish to slander anyone; the slanderers lose respect and burn in the fire of their own negativity.
Back biting, slanderous or inflammatory remarks about other people must be scrupulously avoided in conversations.
- 4. Bahuta bolan jhakan hoyee (SGGS P661)
Don‘t talk too much. It is wasteful.
An old English proverb says – Empty vessels make most noise. Furthermore, when you talk too much, you are listening less.
- 5. Murkhee naal na lujhiye (SGGS P 473)
Don’t engage with the foolish and get into useless arguments. It is a waste of energy.
- 6. Haumai phika bolna, boojh na saakan kaar (SGGS P 1420)
Egocentric and bitter speech becomes a barrier to understanding the divine purpose.
SGGS expresses strong disapproval of such speech. It is ego that compels one to stay locked in an argument and makes ones words harsh.
Phika bole, na niveh, dooja bhao swao (SGGS 426)
Harsh words are devoid of humility and have their own egoistical agendas.
- 7. Jithe bolan haareay, othay chup changi. (SGGS P149)
It is better to remain silent, where one loses respect.
- 8. O hazir mitha bolde bahar vis kade much ghole (SGGS P 306)
In your Presence, they talk sweetly, but behind your back, they exude poison from their mouths.
While sweet words are extolled, hypocritical speech is condemned in SGGS
- 9. Hum nahin chunge bura nahin koyee. (SGGS P 728)
I have no virtues, no one is bad.
The rule of thumb is to be non-judgmental in our perspective. Hold yourself to high standards without inflating the ego but refrain from judging or condemning others.
- 10. Jahan dekhan te pir hai hai bhayee, kholyeo kapat ta man thehrayee. (SGGS P 738 )
Wherever I look, I behold You. My mind has become calm upon gaining this wisdom.
In the course of our spiritual evolution we must aspire to pure consciousness where we see the divine in everyone. How can I speak ill of you or say insensitive words when I am cognizant of the divine in you? In other words when I focus on your goodness, my judgment will give way to empathy:
Buraa bhala ticchar aakhda, jichhar hai doay mahe (SGGS P 757)
Good and bad exist only in a mind that perceives duality.
The principles of ethical communication laid out in SGGS can be learned and practiced with patience and mindfulness. They foster understanding and respect, strengthen our relationships, and empower us to become agents of peace in the world.
Jessi Kaur is the author of Dear Takuya, Letters of a Sikh boy, and The Royal Falcon, highly acclaimed children’s books. She is the editor of Sikhpoint, (www.sikhpoint.com) , a web magazine. A theater aficionado, she produced The Royal Falcon Musical, a show that won accolades as the first ever Sikh musical of its kind. She has traveled extensively to deliver workshops and seminars at international conferences and Sikh youth camps. She has been an invited speaker on Sikh tradition and culture in several interfaith and multicultural events including Parliament of World’s Religions in Barcelona and Melbourne, and the Smithsonian