Yesterday’s theme, Silence in action, is just one approach to changing the world. I am a person who believes that individual suffering and the sufferings of the entire world are inextricably linked together, and further I believe that Buddhism has as its aim the salvation of both.
There are times when silence is the wisest course of action, and then times when people need to raise their collective voices, and in the case of today’s One Nation March, recommit their voices, and hearts and minds, to change. With the election of Barack Obama this country was handed an opportunity, no that’s wrong, we grabbed an opportunity to affect meaningful change. We took it, and we embraced that moment and absorbed all of it, squeezed every bit of hope and joy we could – but only for a moment, then we handed it back. Since then, the moment, the opportunity for change, has belonged to the ugly voices of those who preach hate and fear and division.
One Nation Working Together. Who could have a problem with that?
Well, the answer is not surprising. Glenn Beck, of course. He has denounced the march as a “Socialist Communist Plot.”
We must do something about our level of discourse. It is really getting out of hand. There’s a congressman from Georgia, a Dr. Paul Broun, Jr. who claims that we are “headed for socialism” because the Center for Disease Control wants Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables. Seriously. He says “They want to get all the power of the federal government to force you to eat more fruits and vegetables. This is what the federal, CDC – they’re going to be calling people to find out how many fruits and vegetables you eat today. This is socialism of the highest order.” His office claims he was joking. I don’t know. You can see the video here on YouTube.
Even if he is kidding, there are some who will take him seriously and believe it. It is completely irresponsible speech.
The spirit behind the Buddhist principle of Right Speech is not merely to speak the truth or to refrain from idle chatter, but to speak responsibly, to speak carefully, with reason, from wisdom; to use words that heal, that contribute to the solution not add to the problem. This is the spirit that all leaders should have, whether they are in business, politics, or religion.
It’s obvious that many of our nation’s leaders, across the board, are not in touch with this spirit of Right Speech. That’s one reason why I don’t have a problem with socially engaged Buddhism. It’s why I see a real need for Buddhist to have, perhaps not a louder voice, but a wider one.
If the voices those who have the floor today cannot do anything to improve the quality of our national discourse then new voices should step up and be heard. Hopefully, the One Nation March today will be a good step in that direction. To paraphrase the Who, the new voice is the same as the old voice, the one of 2008. We need to recover that voice, and I believe that Buddhist principles can inform that voice in a positive way, but if the Buddhist voice is never heard, no one will know.
As I pointed out in a recent post, the idea of Buddhism informing and guiding the political world goes back to the Buddha himself. I am not suggesting that Buddhists should form a political party or even thinking in terms of organized social change as much as I have in mind individuals taking a stand right where they are in daily life. I’m talking about practicing responsible speech, and I think too, pointing out irresponsible speech when we hear it. I feel that too often we let inappropriate things be said and left unchallenged by some false notion of civility. But the truth is that when we don’t object to incivility, we are enabling it.
Wrong speech is a form of injustice.
Do not say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest of to impress people. Do not utter words that cause diversion and hatred. Do not spread news that you do not know to be certain. Do not criticize or condemn things you are not sure of. Always speak truthfully and constructively. Have the courage to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may threaten your own safety.
– Thich Nhat Hanh
That safety might be our comfort zone. It might be a misguided sense of politeness. It might be in the way we let wrong speech pass by unchallenged because we believe the intention behind it is right minded. However, that is just aiding and abetting. We need to threaten our own safety first. We should be the ones who challenge ourselves out of comfort zones.
Bob Dylan once sang, “There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’.” The battle is the battle to win over ourselves. Individually and collectively. Learning to practice Right Speech should be among the first salvos fired in that fight.