Monday, February 6, 2017


I've been giving a lot of thought to Right Speech in recent days, for reasons that must be obvious: the new administration and the new president in Washington offer a nearly irresistible target for intemperate language and verbal invective. Their actions have been so immoderate, so rash, so ill-considered as to virtually demand condemnation.

How, though, to condemn? The immediate temptation is to speak out of anger, contempt, or bitterness, but to do so is in some way to own the anger, contempt and bitterness--and not without personal cost.

I don't know about you, but I don't need those things in my life. Some claim that simply to utter them is to get them out of the system. I'm not so sure. They are pollutants, and they pollute not only the mind that entertains them, no matter how briefly, but also the non-material environment. They pollute the cultural/spiritual/intellectual air we breathe in daily.

Condemn politely, then? That feels like weakness, at a time when strength of opposition is called for.

Can we condemn fiercely, and still escape the pollution?

I think so. Right Speech, we might say, demands it. To suppress my views, to remain silent when I see harmful actions being taken, particularly when those actions are taken, however remotely, in my name, is to avoid my responsibility to the truth.

So I am required to speak, and to speak with a forcefulness appropriate to the situation. To indulge in simple insult and invective, however, will result only in further entrenchment on the other side. If I am told I am an idiot for believing such and such, or behaving in such and such a way, my reaction is to reject the basis for the argument as I reject the insult. It's reasonable to assume that others will do the same.

I think it comes down to the need to point, as forcefully as possible, to the harm that's caused by unskillful action and unskillful speech, and to condemn the action rather than the actor. Better--though hard!--to send thoughts of goodwill to the latter, along with the hope that he or she will find a path that leads to happiness for self and others, and away from harm.

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