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Right Speech in the Internet Age: If You Have Nothing Nice to Say, Say Nothing at All

By Shveitta Sethi Sharma
Buddhistdoor Global | 2017-04-13 |

As children we grew up hearing variations of “if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.” Sadly, not many of us paid heed to this sensible advice.

We have all at some point indulged in gossip and senseless negative talk. We probably had a good laugh, felt important at contributing useless information, and moved on. In pre-Internet days, our gossip and opinions were limited to our small circle of friends. We got together, laughed, talked, had a few drinks, gossiped, and gave little thought to the repercussions. Yet words have always carried hidden power, and never more so that today. When English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton coined the adage “the pen is mightier than the sword” in 1839, he clearly understood reach and impact of the written word.

In today’s digitally connected world, our words have the potential to reach hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, in complete anonymity. At the click of a button, our opinions and views can travel all around the globe. While we may choose to hide behind fake profiles or pseudonyms, our thoughts can be read and disseminated by thousands. Ideas shared in jest or in anger can have a massive impact on the person at the receiving end. Misery needs company! I guess that is why unhappy people who are very aptly known as “trolls” are so willing to allow their minds and fingers to run amok.

Our fingers are now like cannons that can be more damaging than any exploding shell. Unkind words, written carelessly or with deliberation, can have a heavy impact. We have no idea about the state of mind of the person who reads our negative comments—perhaps they are in a very vulnerable place and a single snide remark could send them into a downward spiral. I have personally seen the devastating affects of negative words shared on social media. I once received a very pained email from a person half way around the world who had become the subject of hateful comments. She was so hurt that she was contemplating suicide. It took a lot of work to help her see reason and to help her regain her self-esteem.

In very impersonal ways we are making very personal comments. Ensconced in our warm beds or on comfortable lounge chairs, we rip people apart. We spew venom at those who may have different ideologies or beliefs. We forget that these, too, are human beings with feelings and aspirations, feeling pain and emotions.

Why do we do this? Does it give us a feeling of superiority? Does it allow us to feel better about our own lack of accomplishment? Does it validate our existence? There are ways to share our opinions, to give guidance or offer constructive criticism, but putting it in 140 characters or leaving a nasty comment on Facebook or any other social media site is not the way!

Each time we indulge in a negative comment, even in jest, it has an impact on both the sender and the receiver. Then there are the thousands of others who may read and become embroiled in the exchange and before we know it, it’s the naysayers against the yaysayers. Negative thought patterns give rise to negative energy that impacts everyone around us. Similarly, positive thought patterns give rise to positive energy. The current state of the world is so abysmal that we should all try to do our bit by adding to the positivity. Just a simple act of kindness or an uplifting message can make a huge difference.

Many of us lack self-confidence and self-belief, we feel under-accomplished and seem to suffer from “not-good-enough-ness,” then someone comes along who validates our negative beliefs and we have a complete breakdown. I have personally met so many accomplished people who suffer from huge anxiety and feel vulnerable and exposed to other people’s opinions about them. When we read or hear something negative about ourselves, we can descend to deep levels of darkness. We have become so fragile that words can completely break us or elevate us.

Many of us suffer from not having met our own expectations, and then we read or hear a negative comment our self-esteem and self-confidence take a nosedive. Words are powerful! Let’s not use them to hurt, malign, or denigrate. Let’s use words of encouragement and love. How wonderful would it be if every time someone failed to meet our expectations we complimented and uplifted them instead?

We have all said and done things that have caused pain to others. Often such acts are a symptom of our own personal pain. A person in pain is capable of sharing only pain. The trolls also need our empathy, as they are truly hurting. They have no way of expressing their pain except through making others experience the same pain. The next time you encounter a nasty comment, know that it was written by someone in extreme pain; send them love and compassion in return. 

From ted.comFrom ted.com

We can only bring to others what we ourselves have within. Think about a time when you have been at your worst, wasn’t it when you yourself were feeling down? Now think about a time when you made another person feel good, wasn’t that a time when you yourself were feeling good?

We all are like the living cells of a single body. Pain in the body is a sign that something is amiss and needs tending. Similarly, those who give us pain also need tending. We have a collective responsibility to heal ourselves, to heal one another, and to heal the planet. We need to focus on the positive and enable that to grow and expand. The next time your fingers begin to itch with the desire to share something negative or derogatory, put them right back in your pocket, clasp them hard and hold them tight until the feeling to lash out passes.

The written word has power; let’s use it with compassion.

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When All Else Fails, Exhale
Spiritual Bypassing and the Dangers of Unresolved Emotional Wounds
On Ignorance of the Buddha’s Power and Compassion
Intimacy, Humility, and Stillness: The Perfection of Wisdom
Buddhistdoor View: Words Matter—How Harmful Speech is Poisoning Society

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