Dear Beautiful Yogi,

Have you ever had the experience with a friend or someone you know who says something kinda mean or hurtful to you under the guise of “I’m just trying to be honest”? Ouch, it feels really wrong and doesn’t feel like constructive criticism. Well, its not “truth telling”, its judgement and that’s why its hurtful.

As a dedicated yogi, satya (truth telling) is a key part of my personal practice. Satya is one of the 5 yamas (restraints) and it is a very important aspect of how we behave in the world. Learning to tell the truth skillfully is a part of developing one’s character and also reduces negative karma. Simply blurting out what we think is true however, can have negative consequences and be very hurtful to the recipient. Especially if it’s mostly just our personal judgements, unfiltered or counterbalanced.

Satya must be balanced with ahimsa (non-harming). When speaking “the truth”, we must also consider how we can do so without harming. In other words, we take the judgement out of what we need to say and still communicate what is essential.

This is what truth-telling looks like to me:

  • We hold ourselves accountable and take responsibility. Instead of telling the other person they are wrong or laying a heavy judgement or assumption on them, we communicate how we feel. We own what we are experiencing without blame and let them know. “When you did this, I felt like that”. Or, “when you said this, I thought that”.
  • We approach the conversation with a desire to understand, connect and resolve any misunderstanding. This simple attitude has the power to radically shift the conversation towards the positive. People can sense and hear in our tone, if our energy is sincere and compassionate. When we bring this kind of approach into the conversation, the other person can feel safe to respond without defensiveness. They literally feel that we have good intentions in having the conversation and are less likely to feel judged.
  • We are willing to see the situation another way. This is important because sometimes “our truth” is colored by our own misperceptions or personal triggers. Just because we experienced something in a certain way, doesn’t mean the other person meant it that way. Approaching the interaction with a willingness to learn something gives both parties an opportunity for growth and understanding.

In contrast, here is what judgement looks like:

  • I’m right and you are wrong. When we approach telling the truth this way, the message is what I am saying is right and you are wrong. There is no room for discussion or mutual understanding, only one person’s perspective is accounted for.
  • You assume what the other person’s intentions were and tell them how it was or is. Again, this leaves no room for real conversation. How can we possibly always know what another person was intending? When we enter the conversation with assumptions, there is no personal accountability and the other person’s perspective isn’t taken into consideration.
  • Judgmental statements create separation and put the other person on the defensive. A good way to know if you have been skillful at balancing truthfulness with non-harming is a first reaction from the listener. If the response is instant defensiveness, there is probably a better way of saying what you wanted to say. When people feel judged or accused, they immediately get defensive. Because neither feels good obviously. Judgement creates separation and never helps us move towards mutual understanding, resolution or positive change.

The next time you find yourself grappling with a big conversation that requires a new level of truth or skillful discernment between truth and non-harming, see if you can align yourself with the three steps above. It’s not easy, but it is important to differentiate between being honest and being judgmental if we are to not harm people with our communication.