We are called to a genuineness of life and speech that leaves no room for deceit or artificiality. Early Friends took very seriously the advice of Jesus: “All you need say is ‘Yes’ if you mean yes, ‘No’ if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37), and throughout our history we have borne witness against judicial oaths as suggesting a double standard of truth. Devotion to what is true and eternal requires openness, honesty, and careful speech in social, business, and family relationships. As early Friends took care to avoid honorific titles and phrases, modern Friends need to discourage insincerities and extravagances. Flattery, public expressions of gratitude, and eulogies draw attention to individuals rather than to the Spirit that speaks through each of us. We must speak the truth with cordiality, kindness, and love.
All of us ... are diminished and dishonoured when we do not meet each other half way. How can we in truth and lovingly help one another in this? Because we must remember that truth without love is violence. And love without truth is sentimentality. We do need both.
– Muriel Bishop, Integrity, 1990
It is a difficult task to live according to our faith that God’s power operates in us. As we attempt to conform our lives to the leadings of the Spirit, to integrate our beliefs and our actions, and to become more honest and authentic, we receive the strength and courage to follow our religious principles.
No average goodness will do, no measuring our lives by our fellows, but only a relentless, inexorable divine standard. No relatives suffice; only absolutes satisfy the soul committed to holy obedience. Absolute honesty, absolute gentleness, absolute self-control, unwearied patience and thoughtfulness in the midst of the ravelling friction of home and office and school and shop.
– Thomas R. Kelly, Holy Obedience, 1939
Friends have been concerned to communicate with integrity, to make our words and action fit the truth of our lives. We endeavor to speak the truth as we know it, honestly and forthrightly, speaking plainly from our own lives. Sometimes this practice has been difficult. Sometimes the results surprise and delight us.
I was shown that my words should be few, savoury, and seasoned with grace.
– George Fox, Journal, 1694
The person who will listen and not give advice is a precious presence on this earth.
– Robert P. Wightman, in “Listening with a Simple Heart,”
Fifteenth Street Meeting Book of Quotations, 1989
Thoughtful listening is as important as speaking, and a necessary part of resolving our conflicts. If we listen attentively to the expression of the Spirit—in ourselves and in others—words and action can become a means of knowing God, a form of prayer. To speak, write, or act from the truth of our lives brings spiritual force to bear on us in ways that may develop into concerns or leadings if we listen further.
We need symbols to communicate our experience of God, but let us not confuse the description with the reality, or assume that everyone has the same angle of vision. Rather let us say, THIS I KNOW EXPERIMENTALLY, and then ask, WHAT CANST THOU SAY?
– Elizabeth Watson,
1977 Friends General Conference Rufus Jones Lecture
The Hebrew prophets, our Society’s founders, and dissidents in all times often found themselves in conflict with others for speaking from inward-directed truth. This habit is a source of controversy today, even amongst ourselves, when our experiences and the ways in which we communicate them do not fit others’ perceptions or convictions. We encourage Friends to express, listen to, and welcome disagreements as new ways to understand the truth.
I am fully persuaded that if there was less tattling and scribbling and more praying, there would be happiness among us. The spirit of bitterness and malignity is like the whirlwind, that threatens to carry us away in the tempest.
– Edward Hicks, Journal, 1825
Do our words tend towards the harmony, love, and truth that glorify God? To speak the truth is important, and sometimes truth will necessarily cause pain in the process of healing. But we would do well before we speak to consider that our words may hurt others or stir up ill feeling or partisanship. Backbiting, talebearing, and complaints about others are to be avoided. Our communication, as spoken deeds, helps build or destroy what Jesus called the Kingdom of Heaven. We urge Friends to avoid speaking or acting in ways that divide insiders from outsiders.
The best of Friends’ humor has come from the forthright wit of our witness to truth and from the joy with which we behold the presence of God around us. But we caution against the use of sarcasm at the expense of others. The cooling, uniting presence of truth among us is diminished by this kind of anger masquerading as humor.
In life as in meetings for worship, sometimes a silent message is most fitting.
God, set a guard at my mouth, a watcher at the gate of my lips.
– Psalm 141:3 (NJB)