Once in ancient China, three young brothers went to visit Prime Minister Xie An (謝安). The three brothers’ names were Zi You (子猷), Zi Zhong (子重), and Zi Jing (子敬). During their visit, Zi You and Zi Zhong talked a lot about common matters, but Zi Jing spoke very little.
After the three brothers left, a guest who had watched the entire scene asked the Prime Minister, “Out of those three young men, who do you think will be most successful?”
The Prime Minister replied, “The youngest, Wang Jing.”
The guest asked, “Why do you say that?”
The Prime Minister explained, “Those with high prospects and bright futures all speak few words, while those who are impulsive and reckless speak many words.”
The Prime Minister then added, “Zi Jing is also the most polite. After he introduced himself, he stood there respectfully and listened to the adults talk about important life lessons without interrupting. The other two brothers talk too much.”
Later, history proved that it was indeed Zi Jing who was the most successful.
The Book of Changes said,
“Auspicious people speak few words. Impetuous people speak many words.”
(Original text: 吉人之辭寡，躁人之辭眾)
There are many reasons why those who talk a lot might be unlucky, but here are six that I can think of:
- As Prime Minister Xie An mentioned, people who speak a lot are impetuous and rash, which leads to many mistakes and problems.
- People who speak a lot have an agitated and undisciplined mind, which leads to many mistakes and problems.
- People who speak a lot are overly self-centered and perhaps arrogant, so others won’t like them. If others don’t like them, they won’t have good luck.
- People who talk too much don’t listen enough, and if they don’t listen to others, they don’t learn and improve.
- People who speak a lot are more likely to say something wrong, which brings bad luck.
- People who like to gossip about others might make enemies, which then attracts disasters.
On the other hand, someone who is very thoughtful and careful with their speech will naturally attract success and good relationships. So how can we reduce our words and increase our good luck?
Firstly, we need to rid bad speech. Confucius taught people to not speak lies, foul language, gossip, or exaggerations.
Secondly, we can use the triple filter test to ensure our words deserve to be said:
- Is it true?
- Is it useful to the listener?
- Is now the right time to say this?
Thirdly, we should listen more than we speak. As the Stoic philosopher Epictetus said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
By ridding bad speech, cultivating good speech, and listening more than we speak, we will surely attract good luck!
When I meet others, I usually try to listen more than I speak. I know that everyone, including myself, yearns to be heard and appreciated without any judgment, so I try to give that gift to others. But I don’t do this enough with the people that I see every day.
As a high school teacher, I’ve been working on being less rambly. Having been a student before, I know how boring it is to listen to a rambling teacher, so I try to speak concisely to my students. I guess I’ve had some success because students often say in my course feedback surveys that I explain things quite well. I even had students say they wish I would talk more!
In my daily life, I find that I speak a lot when I feel worried or confused. I’ll often spill out my thoughts to whoever is available to listen, but then they just get annoyed because my speech isn’t helpful to them or they want to go do something else. I shouldn’t burden other people with my negative emotions, so I need to work on not speaking when I am in a bad mood and practice managing my mood myself.
- Do you have any bad speaking habits to fix?
- How are you doing with regards to the three filters?
- Do you listen more or speak more?