Sometimes we speak clumsily and create internal knots in others. Then we say, ‘I was just telling the truth.’ It may be the truth, but if our way of speaking causes unnecessary suffering, it is not Right Speech. The truth must be presented in ways that others can accept. Words that damage or destroy are not Right Speech. [Thich Nhat Hahn, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, p. 89)
There’s a man who will never retract*
The words he has said with no tact.
He will often reply,
“There’s too many a guy
Who is kinder in speech than in act.”*
a limerick by Paul Burgess
*Of course, what is said cannot be unsaid. It is better to speak carefully in the first place than to retract something harmful one has said.
*The speaker of the poem mixes wisdom with folly…I will stop treating my light limerick as if it were a literary work meriting scholarly scrutiny:)
PLEASE NOTE: The following post is not about religious beliefs. Careful readers will understand that the post criticizes the ways in which some people express their beliefs and phrase their attempts to convert others.
I.“What if it’s true?”
This phrase, which I have often seen on billboards and bumper stickers, resembles the “persuasive” words an armed robber uses to influence his victim’s way of thinking. When the robber says, “Give me your money, or I’ll shoot,” the victim likely wonders, “What if it’s true? What if he will shoot me?”; unwilling to take such a risk, the victim fearfully surrenders his money. The robber might hold an empty gun, and he might not have the “guts” to shoot, but he succeeds because he understands the psychology of fear. [Do you really think the best analogy for religion is that of a casino in which cautious gamblers must be talked into making what seems to be a safer bet?] Our world has enough fear in it. Preach of peace and love, or remain silent.
II. “Join the right club!”
Another phrase found on several bumper stickers reads: “I believe in God. Join the right club.” While I respect people’s right to express their beliefs, I wish that these people would use less childish and petty ways of appealing to others. Phrases like “Join the right club” prey on insecure people’s need to belong, to avoid feeling inadequate, or—in schoolyard language—to be “one of the cool kids”. Is the point of spirituality to be right, to be popular, to be praised by others? Christianity has dominated the last 2,000 years of Western civilization; considering that many of the Europe and America’s greatest writers have been Christians, there surely must be a wealth of inspiring phrases that can top something on par with the taunts of a playground bully. [One must also consider whether such phrases are likely to convert nonbelievers or only to “pump up” and amuse believers. Implying that people belong to the wrong club—i.e. that they, their parents, or their culture chose poorly—is more likely to provoke them than convert them. True communication occurs only when no party feels disparaged or threatened. ]