Does free speech give us the right to destroys another’s reputation and character by saying anything that comes to our mind?
A panelist at the Parliament of World Religions in Toronto gave me a different view about this. She said the right to life trumped the 2nd Amendment.
She believed we do not have the right to take away another’s right to live by our untrue words.
This resonated with me as I have been confused about the freedom to harm others being “free speech.”
The panelist then went on to say that what we really need to do is cultivate skillful speech and learn to restrain words that come from gossip, envy or the desire to hurt another.
Skillful speech is that which unites, rather than divides people and groups.
I can think of no better method of cultivating skillful speech than by the teachings set forth by the Buddha 2500 years ago.
Skillful speech fits the following criteria:
- It’s true
- It’s kind
- It’s appropriate and timely
- It’s necessary
Can you imagine a world in which people spoke only after speaking words satisfied each of the above questions? What a kind world this would be.
If we truly desire this change it needs to start with us. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see.”
My intention is to speak skillfully. I miss the mark fairly often. However, as I practice I do make some progress!
When we consider that words are the beginning of actions we realize how important this shift is.
So, I for one, am watching my words. This includes the words I speak silently in my mind. As the within, so the without. What goes on in the mind will eventually out picture in some form.
I am embarking on a course of resisting the impulse to exaggerate by putting a positive or negative spin on a story, according to how I want it to look. When I am tempted (and it’s often) I ask myself what my motive is. Is it to divide or unite? Embarrassing as it is to admit, I find the motive is to make myself look good—better than someone else.
Therefore restraint is something I am using more and more.
Old habits die hard, but awareness causes them to slowly dissolve. Habits can only work in the dark where their underlying root patterns are hidden.
As I become aware of what I am thinking and the words that come out of my mouth, I find I am not having so many messes to clean up. And I am better at walking my talk.
The big question is whether I want to unite people or gain status and look good? For that will divide.
It isn’t easy to develop skillful speech. Nothing valuable is easy.
But I am discovering I am happier when I restrain myself from the cutting remark and the sly put down. I feel more connected.
What kind of a world do you desire? All it takes is our willingness to take steps towards it.