Book Review - The Art of Communicating

Photograph taken by David Wilder.

Photograph taken by David Wilder.

Thich Nhat Hanh has written an excellent guide to understanding and practicing what he has dubbed The Art of Communicating. We all benefit from his effort, and I am grateful for the chance to give this a read.

The book begins by discussing the concept of absorbing thoughts, speech, and actions we produce ourselves in addition to karmic actions contained in the communications of those around us. Hanh moves on to address ways to effectively and honestly communicating with ourselves and others. His explanation of how the suffering of our parents and ancestors can be found within our own suffering helped me understand my own suffering as well as that of those who have come before me.

There is a concept discussed at length that essentially boils down to loving oneself in order to manifest compassion and happiness for others. It is nearly impossible to have true compassion for another when one does not truly love oneself. That is something that I have been working on for the past few decades and will continue to work on in the coming decades as well.

Hanh reminds us that when we greet another human being, it is helpful to remind ourselves that there is a Buddha inside them. As he says, "'The Buddha' is just a name for the most understanding and compassionate person it's possible to be. You may call it something else if you wish, like wisdom or God. We can breathe, smile, and walk in such a way that this person in us has a chance to manifest." I really enjoyed the wider passage that I plucked this quotation from—it reminds me that there are positive qualities inside of each and every one of us.

Deep listening and loving speech are also two concepts that I really enjoyed reading about, and hope to put into practice more and more as time goes on. Giving someone our full undivided attention while they are speaking is very powerful—when we listen with true compassion, we have the power to help the person suffer less. This book helped me see that I don't always practice this, and I would like to do it more often because my intention is to always help others and to never intentionally hurt others. Hanh lists and fully explains four elements of loving speech:

  1. Tell the truth. Don't lie or turn the truth upside down.
  2. Don't exaggerate.
  3. Be consistent. This means no double-talk: speaking about something in one way to one person and in an opposite way to another for selfish or manipulative reasons.
  4. Use peaceful language. Don't use insulting or violent words, cruel speech, verbal abuse, or condemnation.

In my opinion, those are very helpful reminders for us to continue to develop our practice of using loving speech when communicating with ourselves and others.

I think my favorite part of the book was the part that centered on the six mantras of loving speech. Without going into detail on what they are in this review, I will simply say that they seem extremely helpful in communicating with others about suffering that we all go experience from time to time. I have already started putting some of these mantras into practice, and have found them to be useful and helpful in my communication with others.

The book also covers the issues of communicating at work and in communities. One piece I took away from those sections was that it is beneficial to find time to be fully present and mindful with myself before getting into the car to drive to work, and certainly before walking into the door at my office!

I have greatly enjoyed reading Hanh's books over the past several years. He has so many that it is unlikely that I will read his entire body of work, but I have benefitted greatly from his contributions and have a few more picked out that I plan to read. If you have any suggestions of exceptional Thich Nhat Hanh books for me to read, please let me know!

4/5 stars. 166 pages.