Sunday, November 20, 2016

Weaponized

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What This In-Vogue Verb Tells Us About Our Divided Culture
Did reading this bother you? Referring to “truthiness", a term coined by Stephen Colbert "But in this election, truthiness has become fully weaponized by social media …” (Oct. 26, 2016 NYTimes opinion page)


Like a bunny in the headlights of an oncoming truck (Watership Down) I admit to being fully “tharn” in the wake of the outcome of the Nov. 8 presidential election. Some of this is shock and fear,  but most of it is a lack of clarity about how to respond to the terrible fate our new president-elect promised to unleash upon the powerless, “the historically disenfranchised”, the sick, the young, the old.  An important part of the conundrum for me is my struggle with non-violent language, avoiding language that is weaponized.  As a Buddhist I try to adhere to its ethical principles, The Five Precepts.  

Rather than describing my engagement with the Precepts as frequently failing, let’s just say I have the privilege of frequently starting over.  Two of them, numbers one and four, are especially relevant to the issue of the election, right action in relationship to it, nonviolence and me.  The first precept is, “I undertake the training vow to avoid taking the life of beings” and the fourth precept is, “I undertake the training vow to refrain from false speech.”  These two feel deeply connected to me, even In times when I am distracted from my practice.  As I have investigated and sat with the first precept it has become very focused on the environment and the evolving realization of how my actions contribute to harm and killing of beings.  And the fourth encompasses more than not lying or deceiving.  It includes the five standards for right speech one of the factors of the Buddhist Eightfold Path.  What is spoken...
  • Is truthful
  • Is not divisive
  • With goodwill
  • Is beneficial
  • Is timely
While this may all sound very monkish, there is a part of a sutra attributed to the Buddha that begins, “And how is one made pure in four ways by verbal action?” And goes on to describe participation in
EPA Town Hall Meeting, Mossville Louisiana
a community meeting (AN 10.176).

Under the best of circumstances I struggle with the fourth precept and right speech.  This election season I have, perhaps we all have, been exposed to and wallowed in the opposite of right speech, that which is false, divisive, abusive and idle.  I am struck by how words destroy, and how words lead to destructive action.  This focus on right speech does not preclude resistance to that which is destructive and harmful to all living beings.  Right now I just don’t know what my role is in countering these harms without doing more harm myself.


I know I probably need to just let it go, open my eyes and see the speeding truck is not just bearing down on me but all of us, regardless of who we voted for, and engage.  The good thing about the precepts (or any truly generous spiritual practice) is a girl can always start over. 

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