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Right Speech and Right Commenting 
15th-Apr-2009 01:38 pm
For a while - more than a while, actually, I've considered writing a series of posts about my understanding of the Dharma, my interpretation thereof and how I want to incorporate it better into my lifestyle.

This is not that post. That post was going to cover the eightfold path, the four Noble Truths and the precepts in a lot of detail, relying on me having a deep understanding of what I was talking about. I am not in a position to write that, yet. But I am beginning to make the effort to incorporate Buddhist morality into my life; I'm just not that good at being mindful of my actions yet. But today, @tygerland on twitter mentioned a #tweetlikejesus initiative, and I realised I should probably make more of a concerted effort with my practice and #tweetlikebuddha, as difficult as it is.

I'm finding Right Speech the single most difficult part of the Ethical Conduct section of the Ethical Conduct - actually, I'm finding it hard to speak mindfully at all, let alone speaking skillfully. My mouth goes off before my brain; it always has; often my brain feels like it has far too much to process and sort through before the window for speaking closes, and I have a habit of approaching conversations like competitions; this is not how I wish to conduct myself. In fact, there have been a couple of occasions in the last few weeks that I've actually seen my own unskillful speech create problems.

It's obviously not just literal speech, but blog posts, comments on blogs, tweets, IMs, all forms of verbal communication count as 'speech', and it's far more easy for me to rattle off something witty and eloquent and hit 'post' then to think about what I'm saying, and whether it's the right thing to say.

From The Big View:
Right speech is the first principle of ethical conduct in the eightfold path. Ethical conduct is viewed as a guideline to moral discipline, which supports the other principles of the path. This aspect is not self-sufficient, however, essential, because mental purification can only be achieved through the cultivation of ethical conduct. The importance of speech in the context of Buddhist ethics is obvious: words can break or save lives, make enemies or friends, start war or create peace. Buddha explained right speech as follows:
  1. to abstain from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully,
  2. to abstain from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others,
  3. to abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others, and
  4. to abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth.

Positively phrased, this means to tell the truth, to speak friendly, warm, and gently and to talk only when necessary.
It's easy enough for me to speak truth; I trained myself to do this a long long time ago. The others are hard because it's not always easy to know whether what you're saying is purposeful, timed right, and kind.

There's a difference, incidentally, between 'kind' and 'nice'; it's the difference between constructive criticism and meaningless compliments. Disagreeing with someone can still be right speech, if done well, and I'm still trying to figure out the best way; although part of the whole thing is accepting that sometimes there is nothing I can say which would help, so I should just close the browser tab and do something else.

In other words, don't do this:

 - because yelling at people on the internet never helps them understand where they misunderstand, it just serves to give the yeller a sense of moral superiority. Actually there have been a couple of occasions today where I have subjected my comments to the lens of Right Speech, and deleted the comment rather than hit 'post'. It's a new action for me, and knowing I can do that is actually quite liberating.

Part of the reason I'm thinking about right speech today is the discussion that cropped up about some of the group blogs I frequent causing inadvertent offence to marginalised groups. In the case of Feministe, it prompted a discussion of how cis-women (like me) can act to keep the space friendly to transwomen, and I've been thinking about how I can practice right speech as a privileged person in conversations about marginalised groups.

It boils down, I think, to the idea that if I only speak when it's skillful to do so, when I have something to say that's true, kind, gentle and relevant, then I end up listening more. One of the core principles of privilege 101 is shut up and listen, and if I stop thinking about how I'm going to word that Very Important Comment I have to make to make it all about me, then I actually can listen.

So this is what I'm working on at the moment. It's difficult, but mind-opening and I think I can handle it.
15th-Apr-2009 01:47 pm (UTC)

It's weird how different people can interpret the same comic very differently.

To me, 386ing is never about yelling at. It's about explaining to. Usually accompanied by this icon and the most inoffensive, friendly wording I can possibly muster.

A few of the principles you're expressing are things I also try to follow. Specifically, the first three of those four. It's tough going with the middle two, because being an asshole on the Internet is a lot of fun, but it's very worth it.
15th-Apr-2009 01:58 pm (UTC)
Oh I used to try and be polite and educate people but I don't bother anymore. I either default to snark or simply leave the conversation, because some people are just complete arseholes. I'm not wasting my energy on some pedantic arsehole or bigot who is too lazy to do their own research.

Edited at 2009-04-15 13:58 (UTC)
15th-Apr-2009 02:11 pm (UTC)
to abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth.

I am down with all of those rules except this one. I am addicted to pointless chatter.
15th-Apr-2009 02:15 pm (UTC)
Also a bit of fiction writing advice has helped me a lot in the wrestley commenting- if you are having trouble making a scene come out right, it is possible that the scene does not belong there in the first place and should be thrown out.

There are so many times I've stopped in the middle of a comment and thought, "Wait... does this absolutely need to be posted? Does it add anything meaningful?*" and then just pressed the back button.

*I would add "or funny" but I don't tend to wrestle with funny comments the way I do Meaningful ones.
15th-Apr-2009 02:19 pm (UTC)
This. Yes.
15th-Apr-2009 02:18 pm (UTC)
I think the problem is that:

1) idle chatter too easily becomes gossip and gossip is harmful to variying degrees
2) indulging in idle chatter is a hindrance to being truly mindful and focused in the moment. It creates a noise in one's life.
15th-Apr-2009 02:22 pm (UTC)

I suppose this is a different kind of idle chatter from posting "CAKE" or "POKEMON MAGIC" in allcaps and glitter font, then. >_>

Other than I guess the noise thing might apply.
15th-Apr-2009 03:24 pm (UTC)
Being rather heavily attached to inanity, surreal asides, meandering conversations and spouting utter gibberish for the sake of making people laugh, I'm not on board with the fourth part.

Abstaining from telling deliberate lies, using slanderous speech, and using harsh words that shock or startle people also rather neuters my stand-up somewhat, so Buddhism probably isn't for me (there's a shock, I'm rejecting moderation. ;)), but I'm glad it's helping you.
15th-Apr-2009 04:02 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure I understand this, but it is very interesting; thanks for posting - and letting me read - it!
16th-Apr-2009 12:21 am (UTC)
This is somewhat off-topic (sorry), but I'm strike by the use of 'cis-' in this way.

Obviously, 'trans-' must have inspired the use of 'cis-.' (Though, I wonder, has it been recently adopted or has it been around for a while?) As someone who studied Latin in my earlier life as a medievalist, I'm fascinated to see how Greek and Latin keep working their way into modern life, often in inventive ways one might not anticipate.

16th-Apr-2009 12:10 pm (UTC)
It's a chemistry reference, so it's Latin because much scientific terminology is Latin.
16th-Apr-2009 12:23 pm (UTC)
True, most directly a reference to chemistry. But I know it from history.

Like, for example, in the time of Hannibal's invasion, or Caesar's wars on the Gauls, where you get plenty of references to 'Transalpine' and 'Cisalpine' Gaul.

So, given that people probably could have taken many other approaches in this case, I thought it was interesting that cis-/trans- was the one chosen. And it works!
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