Podcast n. 171: “Right Speech”
As an actor, I don’t always get to choose my words, so I’m often called upon to say things that have nothing to do with me, but I say them nonetheless because somebody sticks money in my pocket, and, truth be told, I like playing pretend, so it all works out. But there have been occasions in which I have been asked to do or say things that portray an ideology I do not subscribe to, or even cuts against many of my core values. I have struggled with this of late, particularly in the face of a Buddhist concept known as “right speech.” Right speech means avoiding four types of harmful speech: lies (words spoken with the intent of misrepresenting the truth); divisive speech (words spoken with the intent of creating rifts between people); harsh speech (words spoken with the intent of hurting another person’s feelings); and idle chatter or gossip (spoken with no purposeful intent at all). Put in the positive, it means speaking in ways to promote happiness and be uplifting without sounding like you just snorted an eight ball of Prozac.
But as I wrestled with this idea of whether I was a good or bad person for projecting characters on screens that have less than the world’s best interests in mind or are simply corporate shills for horribly companies was a form of right speech, it dawned on me that I was not even certain I was practicing right speech in my own life, the one if which I do get to choose the words. And if that were the case, shouldn’t I get that house in order before worrying about the rest. So I went through the list. I don’t lie, I don’t engage in harsh speech or gossip, but I am capable of divisive speech. I confess. Not too often, I thought, but enough for me to know it’s a tool in my toolbox that I should probably retire.
The best remedy, it seemed to me, was to stop. Cold turkey. So I made a pact with myself. As best as I could, I would be more mindful of what I was saying, careful not to let anything pass from my lips that could be divisive. Simple enough. But I have had to go nearly silent, for what I discovered was that my instinct is to use divisive speech frequently, and as I really examined my conversations, emails and texts I saw that nearly every one – that involved any degree of perceptivity – was tinged with something that could cause a disturbance for the recipient. Texting “I’ll be there in five minutes” doesn’t really warrant too much examination, but responding to a text with “is this one of your five minutes?” is another story. It may seem subtle, but the slight is built in. Often it’s couched in humor, but the underlying truth is that there is often a little seed in there, that, if watered, could turn into a tree of rifts.
It was shocking, to say the least, and I consider myself a pretty decent person, all in all. But I’m going to go for it. Right speech. So, here I go. Wish me luck.
See, I really wanted to say something cynical there.
For the Mineralava Musings, this is Edoardo Ballerini.