Rambling Bran: Right Speech and Politics


You’ve seen it plenty of times, I’m sure: A meme, an article, a post attacking a politician, and since we’re knee deep in the political season, it’s running rampant. Whether it be Trump, Sanders, Clinton, or Cruz, these personal attacks are everywhere.

So what? you may ask. It happens every time there’s anything of significance within politics, you might point out. True enough, but we have to ask ourselves: What benefit do we lend when we spread gossip or slander or curse at an opposing politician?

We all can get political. We all rally behind our politicians of choice, and that’s perfectly fine. That’s what we’re kind of supposed to do. But the mistake comes when we harbor resentment for another politician, when we cherish that resentment more than we do our own support for whomever we’ve designated as the chosen one.

I’ve been thinking recently on the third aspect of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, Right Speech. If you’re familiar with the Eightfold Path, you might know that Right Speech discourages lying, slandering, gossip, and harsh speech. Basically, refrain from anything that will cause discord among our fellow human beings.

Then I recalled an anecdote that Joseph Goldstein told on the topic of Right Speech. In this book Transforming the Mind, Healing the World he describes an experiment he conducted when practicing being mindful of his speech. What he did doesn’t seem all that hard at first, but when you conduct it yourself you find how just radical it really is.

He took up the task of not saying anything about anyone to whom he wasn’t talking. He wouldn’t say anything about anyone not present. Nothing good, nothing bad. And you know what happened? 90% of his speech vanished. He said “As I stopped speaking in this way, I found that one way or another a lot of my speech had been a judgment about somebody else.”

This idea made me think about the political atmosphere, and why we get involved in politics in the first place. And I think for the most part it’s because we want change. We have these ideas about what will make the world a better place. We have opinions on issues, policies, ideologies, and actions that could be taken to change things.

Our mistake comes when we begin to mistake those issues, policies, and ideologies for the politician promising to put into effect what we want. It somehow anthropomorphizes our desires and dreams and opinions, and where we can visualize our political deity, we will begin to visualize their antithesis—usually in the form of an opposing politician.

Then begins the mudslinging. We start hating the other politicians, we resent them, we wish them to drop dead, we make personal death wishes upon them. We stir the pot of ill will and discontent. Soon, the pot begins to boil over and we forget about our wish for positive change.

Our focus in the political race morphs into putting the other politicians down, trying to slander them into obscurity, slap an ugly mask on them. We completely lose focus on the real issues: changing the world—or at least the white house—for the better.

We can support ideas, issues, policies. Heck, we can even support the politicians who support our own ideas. But maybe we should reduce the shouting of names—whether it be for good or for bad—and start sharing our own ideas. Then, when we’ve collected our senses and decided what we truly do believe is the best for our politics, we can investigate which politician upholds our own views. Then, check the box with their name next to it.

It would work in a perfect world, sure, but we will continue to hear and see the vitriol from the opposing sides—and heck, the same side, too. What do we do then? Abandon this whole idea of this radical Right Speech experiment? No. We respond with kindness, patience, and a willingness to not always be right. Heck, maybe we should respond with silence.

Long story short, I can’t imagine that pointing fingers and slinging mud can help much. Especially if you’re deluded into thinking that slandering and cursing one politician will change anyone’s mind…that’s just never going to happen.

When someone shouted “F***ing Socialist!” at me the other day for my political bumper sticker, did I think “Oh, he has a point…”? Of course not. He probably wasn’t aware of how unhelpful his anger-fueled verbal attack was in the first place, and that’s the same with the vast majority of political attacks.

Again, ask yourself what benefit does it have to slander/curse another politician? Especially when it’s fueled by anger.

There’s that pesky saying of mine again: We Can’t Hold Hands when We’re Pointing Fingers.

Peace, (and I mean that)


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