April 13, 2017

Maybe we all need to STFU: Hateful Speech & the Destiny of a Nation.

“Once words leave your mouth, 10,000 horses cannot get them back.” ~ Chinese proverb 


Recently, I heard a dharma talk by Genzan Quennel, in which he said that kind speech is the basis for reconciling rulers and subduing enemies.

“Kind speech has the power to turn the destiny of a nation.” ~ Quennel

A powerful claim, but how could it be?

Then, I thought of my Facebook page—what if there (and everywhere in social media), everyone practiced kind speech?

What if we went beyond social media, and everyone on the world stage practiced kind speech?

Certainly hate speech is part and parcel of the American conversation today. In fact, it can be easily said (if the comments on my Facebook page are an example) that people from every sphere engage in it.

I knew a wise woman who told me once that when people become uncomfortable or afraid, in order to relieve their tension, they retreat to their favorite pastime, “badmouthing someone else.”

If badmouthing Donald Trump counts, it seems there are a lot of uncomfortable and afraid people out there.

The problem is that I often don’t even notice that I am using unkind speech myself. What I do notice is that when I use it, I don’t feel better. In fact, it gives me the same feeling as when I eat or drink too much—a kind of queasy, nauseous feeling down deep inside.

I guess I could call it a “badmouthing hangover.”

It also doesn’t solve problems or address issues. In fact, it makes matters worse.

Genzan Quennel suggests that we adopt kind speech as a life practice, and he gives some examples of what kind speech really is:

>> Kind speech is contrary to violent speech.

>> Kind speech is speaking to sentient beings as you would to a baby.

>> Kind speech is telling someone to “Please treasure yourself.”

>> Kind speech causes virtue to grow.

He made it sound so benevolent, doable, and personal—and then, he alluded to the ubiquitous Facebook meme: “The Five Considerations on Wholesome Speech.”

>> Is it true?

>> Is it kind?

>> Is it beneficial or helpful?

>> Is it necessary?

>> Is it the right time and place?

However, we argue—what about those times when it is necessary to speak?

“Is it really necessary?” Quennel asks. “Is it really necessary to say what I am about to say?”

“If we all [asked ourselves] this…so many people would be spared pain, blame, judgment, sensor, rebuke. So many misunderstandings would not take place. So much harm would simply be left undone. So much suffering would be alleviated. So much deceit and deception would fail to rise. So much good to be done in the world by just refusing to speak unless we knew it was absolutely necessary.” ~ Genzan Quennel

Quennel says that if what you are about to say fails one of the five considerations, then it should be left unsaid. An interesting point, as I hadn’t realized that all five considerations were to be taken into account all at one time.

He tells about a Buddhist monk who fleshed out the considerations more fully.

“Don’t talk too much, talk too fast, talk without being asked, talk gratuitously, talk with your hands, talk about worldly affairs, talk back rudely, argue, smile condescendingly at others’ words, use elegant expressions, boast, avoid speaking directly, jump from topic to topic, use sarcasm, put-downs or glib answers. Don’t give the unasked for opinion, lie, use divisive or abusive speech, or engage in idol chatter.”

Can you just imagine how social media alone would change if these “unnecessary” considerations were eliminated from speech?

We would hear each other with a “delighted expression and a joyful mind.” We would be deeply touched, and we wouldn’t forget the kindness.

We would be changed.

Quennel says that kind speech comes from a kind mind and makes us better individuals.

Thich Nhat Hanh offers a vow for us to use to help us be mindful of kind speech:

“Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I vow to learn to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break. I will make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small. “

Kind speech, from individual to individual, will make more loving communities—and more loving communities will make more loving nations. That is how—word by word, little by little—the destinies of those nations will turn.



Author: Carmelene Siani

Image: Flickr/torbakhopperFlickr/Evan

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

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