If anything, how we speak can have an even more important role to play than our actions do in cultivating and encouraging mettā. Snide comments, put-downs, racial slurs, making fun of people or casting aspersions on them, all create an atmosphere of negativity and exclusion. The Buddha dubbed this sort of thing “stabbing others with the weapon of the tongue” (aññamaññaṃ mukhasattīhi vitudantā, M.I,320). This colourful idiom is reminiscent of such English phrases as “sharp language”, “cutting speech” and “character assassination”. It is also one that well describes the potentially destructive impact our words can have. By contrast, the Buddha described positive and skilful speech as “pleasing to the ear”, “going to the heart” and “worthy of being treasured up” (kaṇṇa sukhā, hadayaṃ gamā and nidhānavatiṃ, D.I,4). To hold back from vituperation or backbiting when we might otherwise be tempted or provoked to do so indicates a commitment to kindly restraint. To build others up by encouraging them, praising their genuine strengths and achievements and affirming their value, is love transmitted through sound. More than that, such speech has the ability to bring out the best in people. Beyond one-on-one interaction positive and skilful speech is significant in the wider society. The Buddha identified loving speech (peyyavajja or piyavācā) as one of the four bases of community, those qualities that that bring people together in harmony and goodwill, and that pre-empt friction between them or sooth it when it does occur. The others bases of community (saṅgaha vatthū) are generosity (dāna), doing good to others (atthacariyā) and treating them impartially (samānattatā); e.g. see A.II,32; IV,219; 364; D.III,152).
In recent years the phrase “random acts of kindness” has become popular and has led to the founding of several organisations promoting the concept and even the designation of certain days for being kind. Some might see such things as well-meaning but cheesy and shallow, self-indulgent even. Buddhaghosa observed that each of the Brahma Viharas had what he called “near enemies” (āsanna paccatthika), very good copies but lacking the originals’ depth, strength and authenticity (Visuddhimagga 318-9). Sentimentality would certainly qualify as a near enemy of mettā. However, it is not always easy to determine exactly where genuine efforts to be more loving and kind end and mawkish sentimentality begins. If we are mindful and aware we should be able to distinguish between the two.