After truthfulness, the next subdivision of right speech is speech that is not divisive, that doesn’t set people apart from each other. What could be more relevant today? The temptation to think and talk about “those terrorists” who are so different from us that they don’t even value life, is all around us. We are invited to fear and condemn “the other”, whether it is jihadists or asylum seekers. Once we allow the view of “us versus them” to take hold in our minds, intentions of ill will are not far behind. For this reason, guarding our speech is a duty we must take seriously if we want to move towards inner peace.
This is not to say that we approve of everyone and everything. We use our discrimination to distinguish harmful acts (of body or speech) from loving ones, generous acts from small-minded ones. We see these as they are; acknowledging them. Then we start the work of NOT going straight on to anger, condemnation, and a desire to eliminate the perpetrators of harmful acts. We can hold immediate realities in our minds without jumping onto the judgment seat. Anger only clouds our thinking, and if peace is to be found, it is in the direction of trying to understand and have compassion for all beings.
What does compassion for harmful beings look like? When the Buddha was confronted with another person’s anger, he saw that it was generating pain primarily for that person. The Buddha acted as a mirror, reflecting the hate back to its source, refusing to engage with it. This is no easy task when we’re hearing about murderers and their victims. At the same time, we should ask ourselves who is served by our response of outrage and vindictiveness?
I don’t have an answer to the question of whether the intensified bombing taking place now is an appropriate military response by nation-states. The question is beyond my ability to understand. But for our own hearts, it seems clear that understanding and patience are preferable to burning hatred. We can also turn our attention to the many compassionate and helpful acts being done by ordinary people everywhere.
So let us all watch our words. Let us be the agents of peace by not contributing to the verbal conflagration taking place around us. We can carve out a zone of sanity by our non-participation in divisive speech.