Scrolling through the blog archive, I came across an entry called ‘It’s What You Say, Not How You Say It’. It addresses a small element of a much broader experience highlighted by Karaj during an intense day of forensic feedback. I remember the lesson well and the title is correct, but every time I encounter it, I am always left questioning whether the elements of that line should be reversed.
It makes more sense for the sentiment to be: ‘It’s Not What You Say, But How You Say It’. Or at least that feels more correct; more common. But that’s because it is common. It’s something we’ve all heard many times before. And there are good reasons why we’re instructed that way. You can say the same thing many different ways, each delivery carrying a different impact. We can be genuine, sarcastic, loving, uninterested, uncaring, over-enthusiastic, fearful, gentle. Therefore, how you transmit your message is important.
The reason the instruction is reversed for that blog post has everything do with the environment in which the original scene played out. It was one of trust and commitment. Everyone in that room (there were ten of us) was after the truth. By turning up each week they were agreeing to the terms of the group: to support, share, be open, give feedback, and challenge each other appropriately. It was really hard sometimes and always intense; but it was also illuminating and liberating.
It was the best work I ever did. Over the years the sessions became progressively longer and more challenging, and there was often great reluctance in the faces of people when they arrived. But that intensity, the togetherness, and the shared goal of discovering the truth meant we were able to treat each other in ways which may be too confronting for most people. We invited – and sometimes demanded – to be told what others could see. It took courage, practice, perseverance and an implicit trust in each other and in the safe space we had created for ourselves.
That is why it was possible to move beyond how we were saying things, and focus fully on what was being said. There was no need to inject any extra feeling or apologise for the bluntness of what we were saying. It’s what happens in any relationship when there is sufficient trust.
When trust is present, people move on from the possibility of misinterpretation or offence. They know that whatever is said is offered in the purest possible pursuit of truth. Such an agreement arises out of, and reinforces the kind of relationship which nurtures growth. Here is what Charles Eisenstein writes in The Yoga of Eating (p.143):
Authentic change requires not willpower and forcing, but surrender, acceptance, trust and courage. It requires the willingness and courage to let change happen. It is a step into the unknown, a trusting of something beyond ourselves. There is no guarantee.
I remember Karaj explaining that if you don’t have trust (in yourself, the process, another person, life…) you’re lost. He also used to say: ‘If you can’t do something out of love, do nothing until you can.’ That applies to our words, too. If everything you say comes from love, it doesn’t matter how you say it. And if what you have to say does not come from love, then why say it at all?