“And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.” — Buddha
In the day that the above statements were first expressed, communication was almost entirely face to face. When we talk to others in person, we have the advantage of seeing facial and body expressions, asking for clarity instantly, and we have a feel for how well the conversation is moving. Communication has changed in ways that bring new complications. We live in a digital world now, where communication is being passed via the written word through many mediums: email, texting, discussion forums, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Because of this, Right Speech is not less important, it’s more important.
Digital communication comes with it’s own set of problems that can make communication even more challenging than talking face to face. Meaning and intent can be lost or misunderstood with a few unskillfully typed words. Often there is not enough context to glean the intent. User names remove accountability, allowing people to say things online that they’d never say to someone in person. Typing out words quickly and hitting enter is all too easy, and encourages us to be impulsive. And with our words competing against the vast amount of other information out there, it could look like a whole lot of blah, blah, blah!
When I first investigated Right Speech in my practice years ago, I focused on the being careful not to lie or be divisive, and I struggled a bit with the idle chatter. Over the years, as my communications spread in digital media, I found my practice deepening as I investigated Right Speech in new ways.
As I’ve worked in various online communities over the years, I’ve become more mindful to how my thinking processes work when I have a keyboard at my fingertips versus when I’m face to face with someone. In spite of the fact that when I type my thoughts into a forum, and I know I am communicating with others, I notice how the self arises. The focus of self wraps itself up tightly in my opinions, my thoughts, what I want to express, and the desire to be heard. If I’m not mindful, I can easily find myself typing out my opinion for the sake of merely expressing my opinion, almost forgetting that I’m communicating with others. This is a subtle and sneaky way self arises.
I find it helpful to revisit Right Speech often, to remind myself the reasons for communication in the first place. Do we need to share our opinions to help others, or are we asserting our sense of self? When we are annoyed by the beliefs or opinions of others is it because the self is asserting itself? Are we honestly dealing with our intent in engaging in online conversations? What are those intents?