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Right Speech Means Speaking Up

On the Buddha's Eightfold Path, right speech is followed by right action. So it's no surprise that the opposite happens -- that hate-filled speech is followed by hateful action. If words are used to demonize people, if laws are proposed to separate them out, to enforce their otherness, it follows -- like the cart follows the horse -- that action will take place.
That seems so clear to me in light of the shootings in Orlando, Florida, in which a gunman killed 50 people and wounded 53 more. Hate leads to more hate, not less.  

That's why it's important, especially now, to look at speech, at the charge it carries, the groundwork it lays, and to consider whether we are speaking wisely. Simply put, does our speech ease suffering or increase it, for ourselves or others?

The Buddha laid out standards for what is considered wise speech. Before saying something, it's suggested the speaker consider whether it is true, whether it is kind, whether this is the right time to say it, and whether the speaker is the right person to say it. And if the answer is not yes, then to be silent.

It seems to me that the time is here for those who are trying to break free from hate to make that clear. Not to engage in hateful speech, by responding to hate-filled rants in kind or by name-calling, but to disagree. Politely, maybe. Pointedly, certainly. But to make it clear that we don't stand with hate.

I read an essay, An Open Letter to a Guy at Work, in which a woman shares her private thoughts after a co-worker comments on the Brock Turner case, in which the former Stanford swimmer received a six-month sentence after being found guilty by a jury of raping an unconscious woman, who had been drinking. "Don't you agree the whole thing could have been avoided if she had just been more responsible?" the co-worker says. The essay ends, after detailing the reasons she disagrees, with, "No, I do not agree." But it's not clear whether she said that to the co-worker or whether her silence left the impression that maybe she did agree.

It is not kind to stay quiet when others make untruthful statements about groups of people. And if we know their remarks are untrue and unkind, this is the time to speak up.

No, I don't agree. I don't think transgender people are weird for wanting to use the bathroom. I don't think Muslims are dangerous. I don't agree with you.

Sometimes we cling to a point of view because no one has ever pointed out a different way of looking at things. No one has said they see it differently. Sometimes that crack in the wall of unanimity is what we need to break our hearts open, to let others in.

You can speak up proactively too. Smile at the Muslim women in headscarves on the bus or in the grocery store. They are such easy targets for hate. Ask a queer friend how they're doing; right listening, holding space for whatever someone needs to say, is also right speech.

Contact your congressional representatives and tell them what you think. Don't let fear and hatred be the only voices in their ears.

I heard a sports announcer, talking about the violence around the Euro Cup matches, say that we're sitting in the embers, and that feels true for more than the soccer world. Hate speech adds fuel to the fire, creates a spark that can become a conflagration. Saying nothing allows it smolder. Pour some truth on it and tamp down the flames.

There's a saying: Practice like your hair is on fire. It's meant to communicate urgency and the need to practice now, not put it off, to make use of this precious human life before impermanence takes over.

But now it's time to practice like your world is on fire.

The world needs you to douse the fires of hatred and delusion. Do it kindly, do it wisely, but do it while you can.

Flower thrower by Banksy

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In the Times Square subway tunnel to Port Authority, there are often Christians proselytizing, shouting that Jesus will save us and handing out leaflets about redemption through the Lord. Last night, one of these people were shouting about sin and retribution and said something like "The Lord gave us our identities and men should be like men, men should not be like women." He was angry and scary. I felt that I should have said something but didn't know how or if that would've helped anyone. I don't think it was possible to change his mind. Maybe I should've stopped and engaged him? Not sure? Something to reflect upon for sure. Thanks for the thoughtful post, Nancy.


I like that you titled your comment "discernment" because that's always important in choosing how to respond. I'm not sure that it's wise to engage someone like that -- he's not open to other viewpoints, and confrontation might have made others witnessing it more scared and shut down.

It's something to think about, for sure. I think intention matters too -- are you trying to change his mind? Provoke a reaction? Make a point? Spread kindness? Maybe the thing is not to engage that person but someone else walking by him who might also feel scared and unsafe, maybe just a smile or acknowledgement of how scary that anger is.

Thanks for your thoughtful approach.

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