Are you responsible to repress your opinion if it may offend others? In a culture where trigger warnings, safe spaces, and social-media outrage have become part of the common parlance, it can be hard to discern what your responsibility for another person’s reaction is. Is there an absolute guideline?
Self-expression is a divine right that we each have. At the same time, this right comes with great responsibility to be sensitive to others with different and even conflicting opinions. (It’s not just a free-for-all for you to express your ego.) How can we balance the two?
The 4000-year-old tradition of Kabbalah offers a practical answer that encourages personal responsibility while supporting autonomy and free-speech. The following three guidelines for communication can help you to communicate sensitively while maintaining your right to express your truth.
Guideline #1: Humility
Humility is the key to balancing your right of self-expression and consideration of others. Your right to express yourself is not about you. It’s about a gift you were blessed with to illuminate a deeper insight into life and the human condition. When communicating truth, emotional and spiritual tools to help people live better lives, ego, arrogance and the likes, all block the way for healthy communication.
If you are truly humble in your critique, you open up the listener to feel that you really have his or her welfare in mind. Whereas if you are arrogant, the other will close up and not be receptive to your opinion. You may even evoke a sense in others that you are just angry, obnoxious, and condescending, looking to show someone up and demonstrate your sense of superiority.
Your responsibility is to be humble, not to be silent. To express yourself with gentleness and care, not to placate others and their feelings.
And when you communicate that way, you engender and cultivate respect and dignity.
Guideline #2: Mutual Respect
It’s crucial to create an environment of mutual respect, even as you exercise your freedom of expression. There are ways to communicate, even if you disagree with someone entirely. What is offensive is not having another opinion, but the lack of respect for the sacred space of another human being, including their opinions.
The sacred-space of another human being does not equal the common perception of “safe-space” — it’s far deeper. It means respecting the essence of another person — the fundamental internal goodness and dignity of a person. We are all responsible for our own emotional reactions — your responsibility as a speaker is to communicate respectfully and from the heart.
Guideline #3: Don’t Intentionally Offend People
You have a right to speak the truth, not a right to deliberately offend people. In the media culture of pundits, shock-jocks, critics, and social media provocateurs, it is unfortunately profitable to intentionally offend people. However, money is no barometer for success — adding light to dark places is. The best way to help inspire others to improve their ways is by showing love. Not as a gimmick or maneuver to warm that person up so that you can rebuke him, but simply, with genuine, sincere love – demonstrating that you really care.
What really lays at the heart of the resistance anyone has to hearing rebuke? Pride, fear of being judged, shame, exposure. And conversely, what truly motivates one to try correcting a wrongful situation? Warmth, kindness, care, and concern. If your words of rebuke are condescending, rest assured that your words will not have an effect. If however the other person feels that your words are coming from a heartfelt place, that you sincerely care about him, then he may be open to hear what you have to say.
Exercise: Make a concerted effort today to examine how you communicate with others. If you find yourself criticizing another, check yourself and change your tone and attitude. Take responsibility for your form of expression. Go out of your way to speak to one person today from your heart. Record your progress in your MyMLC journal.
Go deeper into this subject: In Defense of Anarchy | To Intervene or Not to Intervene | Humility Is Not Self-hatred | The Art of Communication | Art, Religion and Democracy | Mixing G-d and Politics |