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Kate Orman
News From the House of Sticks
Right Speech 
1st-Jun-2009 12:11 pm
HOLD ON
In the grip of mid insomnia around 3 am, I listened to a short talk on the Buddhist idea of Right Speech. As someone with a history of wading into arguments with a sword swinging around her head, and someone who sees all the damage done by teh net.stupid, I'm becoming convinced that Right Speech is the only hope for text-based online communication.

Importantly, the talk wasn't about morality - about judging our own speech and others' speech and how well it conforms to some standard of correctness. If that was the emphasis, it would really be no different from the how-very-dare-you oneupmanship of current online conflict. Rather, it was about using speech skilfully, about recognising the effects of speech - for example, avoiding lying because of the terrific damage this could cause to ourselves and others - and about using speech to connect rather than to separate and alienate.

The talk identified four kinds of speech that tend to drive people apart rather than bringing them together: lying, malicious speech, gossip, and harsh speech (IIUC the latter is upsetting without necessarily being intended to be). It's the work of minutes to find examples of each of these online.

Teh net.stupid is not stupidity or malice, but negligence, the result of quick, shallow reading and posting. The impact of a careless word can be hugely magnified by the Intersplat - how serious it seems, how many people it reaches. An awful lot of online untruths are not deliberate deception, but strawmen created by carelessness: it doesn't take much to distort a debatable statement into an outrageous one, especially with the help of Internet maths. A debatable statement invites, well, debate; but someone who's made an outrageous statement is beyond the pale, fair game for gossip and malice.

So spending more time and thought on reading and posting is one key; and I think that idea of trying to speak in ways which connect people rather than driving them apart may be another. This may mean putting down our righteousness, our indignation, and our need to reassure ourselves that we're good and worthy by attacking others as bad and worthless.

(Ultimately this comes back to grace, the complement to reciprocity. I need to make a proper posting about both concepts. But if you want a bald example of grace, check out the end of The Doctor's Daughter, where the Doctor is justly entitled to take something and doesn't.)
Comments 
1st-Jun-2009 04:41 am (UTC)
Long-time lurker, just popping in to say: I agree 100%, and I really respect how much time you devote to furthering the idea of lessening the cruelty of folks on the net. I think a lot of people don't realize what an issue it really is, and how much damage words can do, even (or maybe especially) when they're just text on a screen.
1st-Jun-2009 05:13 am (UTC)
Oh, thank you kindly!

Online, words are all we are. May as well get 'em right. :)
1st-Jun-2009 06:29 am (UTC)
Yeah, agree with all the above. I always try to be calm and rational online and to use language carefully and constructively (but I fail periodically, cuz I'm human, and I admit that up front).

The frustrating thing about taking that route, though, is that people don't seem to want to "hear" that sort of posting, and it seems to get ignored more often than it gets noticed (and/or responded to in kind), while flaming and screaming and wank attract great hordes of people, all eager to make things worse.

There have been days and discussion threads where I feel like I'm standing on a chair in the middle of the proverbial tavern brawl, trying to talk sense while furniture and bodies go flying through the air all around me . . . :P
1st-Jun-2009 10:10 am (UTC)
"There have been days and discussion threads where I feel like I'm standing on a chair in the middle of the proverbial tavern brawl, trying to talk sense while furniture and bodies go flying through the air all around me . . . :P"

[NOD NOD]

...Which is when one usually ends up slipping out the door as soon as there's a clear line to it, and going to another, quieter and more comfortably furnished tavern where, if one is lucky, one may find someone else who did the same thing, and can have a companionable talk about how stupid everyone is at that *other* tavern.

If you're *un*lucky of course, that's the moment when you find out one of the former brawlers has stalked you to your hiding place... =:o{
1st-Jun-2009 11:11 am (UTC)
"If you're *un*lucky of course, that's the moment when you find out one of the former brawlers has stalked you to your hiding place..."

So you killfile them. Ah, but that's the problem with LJ, it is /not/ a proper discussion forum, which would have facilities to 'killfile' (Usenet term; means "I don't want to see that person's posts/comments" but other people can still see them) and proper threading, not a master post with comments, but people still still to use it as a general discussion forum because that's where everyone else is.

As for "right speech" as described, it sounds like normal rules for communication to me. The trouble is that those of us who do use that form (and no, I'm not perfect at it) get derailed by those who do use strawmen, ad hominem attacks, downright insults, etc., and unless we all make a pact to talk only to each other we have no control over the others. And sometimes the strawmen are really dangerous and do need to be countered.
2nd-Jun-2009 09:57 am (UTC)
"And sometimes the strawmen are really dangerous and do need to be countered."

...especially when Paul Cornell's involved! =:o>[G,D&RVVF]




Edited at 2009-06-02 09:58 am (UTC)
4th-Jun-2009 03:43 am (UTC)
I've improvised a KILL file on a couple of occasions by having my Webmail delete notifications from LJ which include the relevant username. (Although I ought to have tested whether it worked by sending the messages to the trash, rather than just deleting them - maybe it's just that the nuisances in question had nothing more to say!)
1st-Jun-2009 04:00 pm (UTC) - grace. etymology

c.1175, "God's favour or help," from O.Fr. grace "pleasing quality, favour, good will, thanks," from L. gratia "pleasing quality, good will, gratitude," from gratus "pleasing, agreeable," from PIE base *gwer- "to praise, welcome" (cf. Skt. grnati "sings, praises, announces," Lith. giriu "to praise, celebrate," Avestan gar- "to praise"). Sense of "virtue" is c.1330, that of "beauty of form or movement, pleasing quality" is c.1340. In classical sense, "one of the three sister goddesses (L. Gratiæ, Gk. Kharites), bestowers of beauty and charm," it is first recorded in Eng. 1579 in Spenser.

lovely however and whenever it is to be found. esp in the lightly solidified speech that is an internet posting.
4th-Jun-2009 03:41 am (UTC) - Re: grace. etymology
*nods* All those meanings can be seen in the idea of Right Speech. I'm using the word very specifically (and possibly eccentrically) to mean not returning evil for evil. Mercy and forebearance, given as a gift.

Edited at 2009-06-04 03:43 am (UTC)
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