A Buddhist view of insults
BUDDHIST INSIGHT ON THOUGHTLESS REMARKS
‘A Buddhist view of Slander, Gossip and insults’
By Bob Young
Speak of me as I am. Nothing Exaggerate or set down in malice”
As a Buddhist coming from a Christian family, I’ve had to deal with judgments and criticisms about my choice of spiritual practice. I don’t think they mean to be insulting, they just don’t think before they talk. And that’s a common problem today.
We judge, we criticize and we gossip. Sometimes it’s masked as a joke although it’s really not. Sometimes it’s said behind the other person’s back. But the harsh judgments of society are commonplace and people rarely think about the connotations. Maybe they take their lead from the TV sitcoms where friends and family members berate each other with vicious insults.
Sadly, these sorts of comments are made every day by people who surround us. By the people we work with and take the train with everyday. Slander and insults are all around us. And yes, we’re guilty of it too. Maybe not at blatant, like religious intolerance, but we all have targets for our unloving judgments.
Why do we insult, slander or gossip about people? Why do we judge and convict? Is it because we see something of ourselves in the ones we judge. It must be something personal or we wouldn't bother.
What we say and how we say it affects those around us. We’re all connected on some level and everything we say has a consequence. A thoughtless remark or a bad joke can be like an anvil dropping on someone’s head.
When I was a kid, I didn’t know much about religion or philosophy. But there was ONE GUY who I revered as the wisest philosopher & keenest observer of the human animal. That wise sage was Charles Schulz, creator of “Peanuts”. He was my guru, the one guy who really got it! One particular comic strip of his has always stayed with me till this day. Charlie Brown innocently walks up to two of the other kids – Lucy and Violet. Before he says a word, they start yelling “Get out of here! Beat it! Go away!” Charlie Brown skulks away sadly. The two girls watch him go, and Lucy says. “You know what I hate about Charlie Brown? I never see him smile.” That insight to me, spoke more eloquently than a whole volume of philosophy.
People can be blindly unaware of how their comments affect others. When we unleash our criticisms or insults at someone, they may not outwardly seem to be affected by our unsolicited opinion – but somewhere inside, part of them will be replaying what you said and wondering if it isn’t true. When this happens, both you and they are diminished. People can be much like dogs in this way. If you beat them enough, they may start to think they deserve it. We can be, as Shakespeare said, “Done to death by a slanderous tongue”.
Words can be weapons. Just as a kind word can keep you smiling for hours, a harsh word can ruin your day. “An injury is forgotten sooner than an insult”, said the Earl of Chesterfield.
We slander so casually, but we hate it when we’re slandered against. It makes us mad. And sometimes we want to get even. As Edgar Allen Poe wrote… “The thousand injuries of Fortunado I had borne as best I could. But when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.” People take insults to heart. At one time, insults were considered so bad, that people would duel over them. Slandering a person was so serious; it was worth killing or dying for. We don’t do that anymore, but how often have you said “I'm gonna kill him! I swear, I’m gonna kill him.” Demeaning someone is not a little thing. It hurts.
So why do we let it hurt us so much? We’re such fragile creatures. We’re so easily hurt. That’s why we get stuck. Little wounds from little words can drag us down, sobbing. Paralyzed into insecurity! To quote Buddhist Daisaku Ikeda, “If we allow ourselves to be disturbed by petty criticisms and slanders, if we fear persecution; we will never advance or create anything of lasting value.”
We don’t want to be unhappy. And we should take care when speaking so we hurt no one. We should try, as Alfred Lord Tennyson said, “To ride abroad, redressing human wrongs. To speak no slander, nor listen to it.”
Insults come from our anger, at ourselves and at the world. We may burn someone with an acid tongue because of the rage and fear inside ourselves. I think, if we were more comfortable with our inner demons, we wouldn’t see others so demonically. We need to adjust our thinking inwardly, to stop slandering outwardly.
One final Buddhist quote… “We will continue to strive for this goal earnestly, undaunted by criticisms, slander or malicious attempts to hinder our progress. That is because what we are doing is the will of the original Buddha.”
And so, our homework is to watch what we say and WHY we say it and if we’re careful, we’ll do no harm.