Monday, October 11, 2010

Public Speech - Right Speech

There is a powerful post over at Bookbird's blog I urge all of you to read. It's heartening to see this relatively new Buddhist practitioner standing up with clarity and expressing the dharma in her own unique way without apology.

Today is National Coming Out Day, an effort to bring public awareness to issues impacting the GLBTQ community, and really, all of us, regardless of sexual identity. Here in the U.S., a string of teen suicides, one of which I wrote about recently, has illuminated the limitations of polls suggesting that more people hold Queer friendly attitudes than in the past.

As Bookbird points out so clearly in her post, how we speak to each other - the words we choose to use - sometimes have a much longer lasting impact than we might wish them to have. A comment made in anger by a Zen teacher awhile back still haunts her, for example, even long after apologies were made and others have moved on. Before you suggest that she, too, move on, read this:

As a new Buddhist my heart was breaking watching this craziness unfold, but I tried to stay clear. Until the teacher levels a particular criticism at the student. “You and your butt buddies...” he begins. Yes, yes, yes... his insult is to call this student gay. My heart fell into pieces, and tears leaked from my eyes.

Who are we? What do we stand for? And more than this, by our silence, what do we permit? What do we condone?

And did that teacher know that those words, said in haste, said in anger, would continue to bite at people? That words written in this way extend homophobia again, and tell me that my identified sexuality is just a joke to throw at people we dislike? That his comments would breed self hatred in some of our most vulnerable people? That I would read this comment and again wonder, how welcome am I in this community?

So to the Buddhist community I would like to say – make the link. Make the link between our everyday actions to the hurt that stays with others. Our words can become so casual when we are continually talking – commenting on blogs, tweeting, chatting on forums. But those words stay – and people who come after us will read what we say, and will think about the way we have said it.

What I love about this is the broader call to all of us to basically watch our words, whatever we are talking about. It's not always easy to do. Sometimes, we make mistakes. Big ones even. And that's part of the process of working with Right Speech.

I remember a heated argument I had with an old girlfriend. Our relationship was on its last leg after three years, with both of us having had piled up way too many grievances against each other, so that the particulars of that day really were about our whole relationship. I had spent several hours over the course of a week researching for an upcoming vacation we were going to take, when she suddenly announced that she couldn't afford to go. There was a threat of a strike at work, which I fully supported, but I couldn't get over how this decision was like so many others with her. She made a lot more money than I did, but somehow was often broke when it came time for us to do things together. I stupidly leapt from my anger about this pattern, called her "selfish," and went into a litany about various disappointments I had about her. And then I walked out of her apartment and didn't speak with her for three days.

It was a low point for me. And after a few more months of trying to keep things going, she told me she never got over what I said to her that night, and the way I said it. The relationship might have been doomed anyway, but that outburst on my part was a major factor in the drawn out and unclear ending that followed.

Fortunately for both of us, this happened in private. Sure, various friends and family ended up hearing about bits and pieces of our struggles, but it wasn't something left to hang in the public eye for months and years on end. There was definite hurt done to her - and amends I had to made. But it's not like the sometimes hate filled arguments and diatribes done in the public eye, which go on negatively impacting strangers long after the initial parties involved might have moved on.

This, to me, is one of the great challenges of the world becoming "smaller" and more globalized. Everything people say and do has more potential to impact strangers living half way across the planet. Obviously, this can be of great benefit when the best of the human experience is upheld for everyone. But it also can have terribly consequences when the worst is upheld.

Let us endeavour to give the best of ourselves to the world, and to work with our mistakes with an honesty and sincerity that transforms them into gold.


Algernon said...

Well expressed by the both of you.

Unknown said...

Thankyou for your suppport, friend. It means a hellava lot xo