Our words should open people’s hearts, not close them
Suppose a surgeon operates without considering the patient’s weak heart, and the surgery leads to a fatal complication. The surgeon would be considered negligent if they hadn’t bothered to know about the patient’s heart problems or the surgery’s possible complications. But if they had known about the problem and the complication, and had still not taken the necessary precautions during the surgery, they would be considered culpable.
In the bhakti tradition, a sage’s words are often compared to a surgeon’s scalpel. Just as surgeons cut to heal, sages speak to cut people’s misconceptions and help them understand life’s spiritual purpose.
Like patients with health weaknesses, people often have sore spots. Based on their background, they may feel strongly about particular teachers, practices or ideas. If spiritual teachers attack these cherished beliefs prematurely or insensitively, their words often trigger such a strong defensive reaction in those people that they close their hearts and don’t give the Gita’s message a fair hearing. Even if such teachers have noble intentions, their actions equate them with negligent or culpable surgeons.
Just as responsible surgeons do appropriate background tests on patients before operating, responsible Gita teachers educate themselves in advance about their audience’s sore spots. Just as expert surgeons take additional precautions when operating on vulnerable patients, expert Gita teachers modulate their presentations when speaking to sensitive audiences. They may initially avoid addressing their audience’s pet notions and instead speak general wisdom that earns the audience’s trust. This trust decreases the chances of audience alienation when touchy issues are later addressed.
Pertinently, the Gita (03.26) urges us to not speak in ways that agitate people’s minds, but to resourcefully engage them on the path of consciousness elevation, even if they progress slowly.
Better to speak sensitively and illuminate gradually than to speak indiscriminately and alienate permanently.
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