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.)