Small Thoughts for a Quiet World.

Note To Self: Gates of Speech

I love this quote:

Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates:
Is it true?
Is it necessary?
Is it kind?

And these three gates provide a lot of guidance. I've thought about these gates a lot. I think they provide solid guidance for almost any form of communication, other than just shooting the breeze or making up stories together.

Lately I've found two more gates that are useful for times where I feel like I might want to offer someone advice. One of these is based on a quote I saw on Twitter back in the day:

Advice unasked-for is criticism. Period.

So...that took me a while to internalize, but I have to agree. And based on that I've added two “gates” for advice to pass through before I offer it:

  1. Are they hurting anyone?
  2. Did they ask?

The first one is a re-formulation of “is it necessary?” I suppose. I kind of don't like that one because necessary is such a slippery concept. At least a lot of people have a lower bar for necessity than I feel is appropriate. So this is a definition I am comfortable with. A comment is necessary if it is going to be made to prevent or reduce harm.

But the second one has been very helpful for me. Given that any advice is criticism if it is offered without being invited, this reminds me to re-frame my thoughts about what I'm about to say.

But What About Teaching?

In a number of my roles in life I am a “teacher” or “leader”. Which means I need to help people grow in ways that they haven't yet asked for. So how do I offer advice in these situations? As a parent, as a leader at work, do I ignore the last two gates? If someone still has room to grow in their career that doesn't mean they are hurting anyone, and they may well not ask for advice if they don't know there is room to grow. So how do I reconcile that?

I'm not perfect at this, of course. But here's what I'm trying to do:

First: The first three gates still apply. When I'm teaching I had darn well better be teaching Truth. I should understand the necessity of what I'm trying to teach, and there is no way on earth that it's allowable to teach without kindness.

Second: Teaching can be seen as an exercise in helping people come to a place where they are ready to ask certain questions, and then you can help them with the answers. This isn't the standard pedagogical model I grew up with. But in my master's degree classes this was close to what the teachers would do: they would provide a pre-test at the beginning of a module and then we students would have a desire (or “motivation” as they would say) to dig into parts of the material that we didn't yet understand. I had one professor who was amazing at this, and I think about his example whenever I'm trying to provide education and information.


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