Outer Obnoxiousness, Inner Peace, and Mindfulness: Thoughts on the Practice of Wise Speech

Lucy says, “I hate everybody. I hate the whole world!” Charlie Brown replies, “I thought you had inner peace.” “I do!” she exclaims. “But I still have outer obnoxiousness.”

And lawyers? Sadly, we’re often the poster children for outer obnoxiousness. But it’s not totally our fault. We’re permanently overwhelmed. We’re reactive by training. And we’re perfectionist by nature. Plus, we work in a combat zone.

The conditions are not exactly supportive of inner or outer peace. They’re more like fighting for our lives. No wonder we have outer obnoxiousness.

Then again, sometimes I wonder why there’s still outer obnoxiousness in the law, when there are so many mindfulness tools to help.

Mindfulness has two wings: wisdom and compassion. When we’re exhibiting outer obnoxiousness, we’re not employing much of either. In particular, we’re not employing one of the most simple, important mindfulness tools: wise speech.

Wise speech has four rules: no lying, gossiping, harsh words, or divisiveness. For lawyers, that translates as truth, kindness, and patience.

There are various mindfulness tools that support wise speech. One interesting one is generosity. When you offer pro bono work or give away your old clothes as a matter of course, it’s ordinary generosity, which is great. Mindful generosity is different because it arises from an internal desire to give. To misquote Justice Stewart, mindful generosity is just something you know when you feel.

It looks like joyfully offering advice you can never bill for, because you just want to help.

Or your mom calling, and you stop working and offer to talk.

Instead of continuing to stare at your screen while assuring your partner you’re listening, mindful generosity is looking up and actually listening.

At its core in relation to communication, mindful generosity is making sure the words you’re offering are truthful, kind, and patient. And since words are our stock in trade, there are plenty of moments to practice generosity and wise speech every day. Here’s how:

First, each time you get ready to say or write something, take a breath.

Next, turn towards the person you’re with, or, if you’re writing, call the recipient to mind.

Last, tune in. Take a moment to care. Ask yourself how your words will affect the human you’re talking or writing to. You can’t control their experience, of course, and they may be upset by what you have to say. But at least you’ll be offering your wisest, most generous take on the matter, not compounding or contradicting your message with outer obnoxiousness. And when you make it a practice to care, wise speech is right there.

Wise speech, in turn, leads to less regret. Less regret leads to a clear conscience. A clear conscience leads to steadiness of mind. And a steady, unshakeable mind leads to peace.

Like all of mindfulness, the progression makes sense.

Over time, the new neural pathways you’re carving by practicing generosity and wise speech become stronger. As Henry David Thoreau said nearly two centuries ago, “As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”

Generosity and wisdom are good choices for the kinds of thoughts we want to dominate our lives in the law. And the good news is, you can be powerful, even ferocious, and still use wise speech. In fact, you’ll probably feel more powerful when you’re truthful, kind, and patient.

And then there’s that steady, unshakable mind. How awesome is it that yet another mindfulness tool that benefits others, also leads to inner peace?

Judi Cohen

Judi Cohen formed Warrior One and created Essential Mindfulness for Lawyers®, nationally recognized for its originality and excellence in integrating traditional mindfulness, groundbreaking neuroscience and the science and psychology of the legal mind. Judi has presented to a wide range of global, U.S. and local firms, in-house legal departments, bench and bar associations, legal conferences, and law schools. Read More