The truth may be bitter, but it doesn’t have to be told bitterly
When we see someone doing something wrong, we may feel tempted to correct them immediately. If our words hurt them and they protest, we may defend ourselves by saying that the truth is bitter.
Yes, truth can be bitter, but it doesn’t have to be told bitterly – it can be told politely, sensitively, encouragingly.
How to tell bitter truth palatably is demonstrated by Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita’s sixth chapter. Therein, after Krishna outlines the process of yoga centered on controlling the mind, Arjuna voices his apprehension that the mind is too forceful to restrain (06.34).
From Krishna’s omnipotent perspective as God, nothing is difficult to control. If Krishna had responded solely from his perspective, he would have dismissed Arjuna’s apprehension – he could have told Arjuna to stop chickening out from the fight against the mind. Instead, he chose to convey the truth empathically. The truth is that if we want to do anything constructive, spiritually or even materially, we need to discipline our mind. But before conveying this truth, Krishna first acknowledges Arjuna’s concern: the mind is undoubtedly difficult to control (06.35). Through this acknowledgement, Krishna shows Arjuna that he understands.
Once Arjuna feels understood by Krishna, he becomes open to understand Krishna. Then, Krishna reiterates the truth: the mind can be controlled by resilience and patience. Krishna doesn’t change the truth, but speaks it encouragingly.
When we give others constructive feedback, if they resent or protest, we need to see their statements as distorted expressions of their need for understanding. Indeed, understanding is for our heart what oxygen is for our body – without either, we feel choked.
If we want our feedback to help others, we need to speak bitter truth gently. Thereby we can help others shift their emotional energy from defending themselves to improving themselves.
Think it over:
- How does Krishna show Arjuna that he understands?
- When people oppose constructive feedback, what are they often calling for?
- How can our speaking bitter truth gently help others?
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