Inner speech as subversive marker of psychology. True speech passes quickly

Inner speech—what we say to ourselves when alone—provides a reasonably good outline of our conscious psychology, an outline of how we understand ourselves.

Inner speech may also include semi-conscious information and subject matter.

When engaged in personal art and poetry inner speech frequently draws on unconscious material, though it is difficult to know where to draw lines between that and psychology. Art is all but defined by its capacity to evoke many interpretations.

Inner speech wanders and can become subversive, even if beautiful, by confirming misunderstanding.

When we are consciously mindful of our inner speech and deliberately pay extra attention to it (a valuable practice), our speaking will change because whenever we strive or focus on anything our relationship to it changes.

When speech pays attention to itself, it brings recursion, one of its core features, to bear on itself. In doing that it raises self-awareness to higher macro-levels or causes self-awareness to view itself from different perspectives.

Consciousness seems to require consciousness of something; in this case it is consciousness of consciousness, a very simple thing actually.

Does water know it’s wet? I don’t know. Does consciousness know it is conscious? Of course it does. We must admit here, though, that what we are conscious of is often wrong.

Being wrong is a big problem with inner speech. I might be talking rather passionately to myself about something that never happened the way I have come to see it. We all know this, though it’s hard to know what to do about it.

That’s probably a big piece of what the Buddha meant by delusion, or even wrong speech. Mumbling away in my own head about something I am completely wrong about!

Oh well.

With an honest partner at least I can get an honest answer about whatever they are thinking right now and compare that to whatever I thought I saw in them. And from that I can tell whether what I thought I saw in them was right or wrong.

That is very good information, some of the best. Let a few seconds pass and their memory will already be eroding, their information not-so-slowly consumed by inner speech.

Friends will typically provide all the inner speech you want, but we would be back at square one if we took that in place much better information from as close as possible to the actual moment that just occurred.

If you think about it, you will probably agree that we can really only gain an objective insight into our psychology in the moment with an honest partner. And in those instances, we will mostly only gain insights into small bits of it.

Fortunately, with time and an accumulation of many small bits of information like that, we will see much better outlines of our psychologies than either our own inner speech can provide us or that can be provided by any theory that comes from outside.

Time pressure encourages socially acceptable speech

An interesting study shows that:

Prosociality increases when decisions are made under time pressure.

and that:

These results of socially desirable behavior under time pressure do not reflect people’s deep-down good selves but, rather, their desire to present themselves favorably to other people. (Rushing to Appear Virtuous: Time Pressure Increases Socially Desirable Responding)

Lead author, John Protzko says of the results:

“The method of ‘answer quickly and without thinking’, a long staple in psychological research, may be doing many things, but one thing it does is make people lie to you and tell you what they think you want to hear. This may mean we have to revisit the interpretation of a lot of research findings that use the ‘answer quickly’ technique. (Under Time Pressure, People Tell Us What We Want to Hear)

The cutoff for “time pressure” was 11 seconds; that is, a yes or no answer was required within 11 seconds to be considered pressured.

Most conversational speech comes well within 11 seconds after a person has been addressed. While being addressed is not the same as being questioned, it does usually imply a response is needed fully as much as a direct question.

If this extrapolation is true, the experiment may also show one important reason people fairly often say what they don’t really mean and/or would rephrase on further reflection.

Beyond that, it may also show why many people are uncomfortable in group settings or with speaking at all. Pressure—time or otherwise—forces us into a shallow “agreeable” mode that regurgitates whatever we think others want to hear or that seems most socially acceptable to us.

I know I have done that many times. And when I buck that tendency, I know I sometimes hit it out of the park and sometimes cause myself embarrassment.

Either way, no matter the result, quick speech is fraught with danger, even among close friends. And this is probably a major reason we legitimately cling to personas, egos, or roles as means to standardize our responses across a wide variety of conditions.

From a Buddhist point o view, a great deal of delusion starts right there.

Public language has problems similar to private language

Private language—what we say to ourselves, how we cogitate while alone—is greatly dependent on public language, that which is readily understood by many.

In fact, private language is so dependent on public language, it can be argued that a private language completely divorced from public language cannot exist.

It is obvious that anyone wanting to influence or control large numbers of people will address them in public language.

It is less obvious, that those same people frequently will also seek to change the public language itself.

Sometimes this language changing is a good thing as that is how civilizations adapt and grow. It is probably best, or usually best, when civilizational changes arise organically from the whole society or from important parts of society that are behaving honestly.

Sometimes, however, the changing of public language is done dishonestly by small numbers of people who have seized positions of power, sometimes precisely for that purpose.

They change public language to further their positions, ideas, or programs; to seize control of public topics; to seize or secure power over the public.

It is not as easy to parse this as it may seem. Who is restricting honest organic input into public language? Or when is organic input into public language itself but a ruse to falsely commandeer that language?

After Lenin and Stalin seized control of the public languages of the Soviet Union, we can see a clear-cut example of bad actors creating a basis for indoctrination. Before they seized power, we can see an example of a dishonest “organic” group seeking to commandeer control of public language.

And how do we see that today, through the lens of “history”?

Firstly, whose history? The same problem with public language arises.

Secondly, maybe we can never know. Maybe only societal laws or rules of governance can help us determine what’s right or best. But then the same problem arises.

Whose laws, whose rules?

In this sense both public and private languages have enormous problems basing themselves on anything.

What limits speech? In a word: Fear

If we consider speech with only one listener and look firstly at the micro level, we find it is fear of wrong word choice, wrong gesture, expression, demeanor, or tone of voice that limits our speech because a misstep with any one of these may transgress interpersonal limits.

At the meso level, it is either fear of offending or embarrassing (our understanding of) the “personality” of our listener or the fear of an actual flareup from our listener.

At the macro level, it is the fear of introducing a largish idea with sociological or career implications that might disturb, embarrass, or anger our one listener.

With more than one listener, the analysis is much the same though the numbers of people make it more complex, until we get to so many people we are speaking to an audience. Then it becomes simpler in some ways because the micro and meso levels will be less prominent due to distance between speaker and audience and there being no clear single target of our tone of voice or phraseology.

On the other hand, an audience’s response can be more complex and problematic because more than one person can become angry at us.

Human beings thus are stuck in a game that is controlled by how most of us listen most of the time.

Stated differently, human beings have magnificent speech and communicative capabilities, but rarely get to use them to their full, best effect because one or more of the many speech limits outlined above will cause us either to hold our tongues or else risk creating a disruption in the mind(s) of our listeners.

This seems like a Big Problem to me. I do not want to spend my life constrained by those rules. FIML can help us overcome this problem but even FIML cannot do it all.

We must also recognize that our very comprehension of meaning itself is grounded in fear.

Buddhism: Advanced Right Speech requires Advanced Right Listening

The modern world has shown us that Ordinary Right Speech too often leads to no-speech, banal speech, or what used to be called PC speech.

This happens because we can never be sure how even very well-intentioned speech will be heard in Ordinary Situations.

Good intentions are not enough to ensure that Right Speech will be heard Rightly.

A second point about the modern world is it has shown us that, for the most part, more information is better than less information.

Rather than guess about something or rely on a neighbor’s experience, we can look it up on our phones and usually find exactly what we needed to know.

If we do not want to suffer the endless pain of Ordinary Speech because we almost never know how our speech will be heard, let’s learn from our cell phones and ask each other how we are hearing, what we are hearing, what we are able to hear or not able to hear.

In my experience, modern Buddhists virtually all respect the capacity for change inherent in the Buddhadharma. The Four Dharma Seals ensure that we are not being stupid when we interpret the teaching in light of our lived experiences.

My guess is virtually all people suffer a great deal due to fraught speech and fraught listening. Either not enough gets said, or we miss our one chance to say whatever it is, or we are misheard, misunderstood, misremembered. Or we do that to someone else.

So how do we make it better?

Since we were all raised in a world of Ordinary Speech where almost anything could be misunderstood, we all need a way to distinguish speech that is better. We need better rules for how to speak and how to listen.

Advanced Right Speech requires Advanced Right Listening.

You cannot just jump into Advanced Right Speech if your partner knows neither what you are doing nor how to listen to you.

If you want to do Advanced Right Speech you have to have a prior agreement with your partner so that both of you know exactly what is meant by Advanced Right Speech and Advanced Right Listening.

In Buddhism, all relative things are impermanent and empty. Therefore Advanced Right Speech and Advanced Right Listening must be based on a method or process, a technique or way of doing something and not on specific, codified formalities.

FIML practice meets all of the above requirements and if done with reasonable diligence will provide Right Conditions for Advanced Right Speech and Advanced Right Listening.

And that will change your life for the better. It will free you from the constraints of Ordinary Speech and you will never want to go back.