Mindful Speech in the Internet Age

These writings about mindful speech, group communication, and electronic mail have been compiled by an RS member (Bob J) as an offering for contemplation.

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering.  Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I vow to learn to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope.  I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break.  I will make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.
-- Thich Nhat Hanh
in Living Buddha, Living Christ
(New York: Riverhead, 1995) p. 100-01.

The major way we douse the fire is by being careless in communication....  The ease of email encourages us to be hasty and casual in what we post, and the ease of reaching lots of people at once encourages us to put our grievances out before the multitudes instead of thinking carefully about who really needs to hear them.
-- Starhawk (2 Feb 99)

In February 1999, Starhawk circulated (by email) some thoughts about how email  can serve or damage a developing community.  I have generalized or placed in brackets references specific to her group. -- bobj

The list is for sharing information - on decisions and procedures, on what we've learned.

The list is good for sharing ideas [like the helpful discussion about possible ways to fund this organization].

This list can be used for sharing experiences - I'd love to hear what other people feel during our celebrations, or what kinds of issues are coming up as we plan our activities.

The list is good for getting acquainted [I enjoyed that period last winter when everyone was introducing themselves].

This list could be good for having those fascinating discussions we never have enough time for at retreats and meetings.

But there are some things this list is not good for:

Conflict cannot be resolved via email.  We can generate conflict aplenty online, but to resolve it we need actual face to face or at least ear to phone contact.  Written communication just does not work - and no conflict can be resolved under the scrutiny of a hundred people whom you can't see and don't know very well.  If you have a conflict with someone, you've got to talk to that person directly.  If you need help, ask someone to mediate.  If you have a conflict with a group, deal with members of that group.  There's a Law of Mediation - "the more people involved, the less likely the problem is to be solved."  If you bring a conflict to this list, you essentially make it unresolvable.

This list is not a court of judgment.  It cannot punish people, censure them, or control their behavior.  For every one person who attempts to use it in this way, several are likely to be turned off from the whole group.

This list is not the place to critique individuals - unless that criticism has already been expressed directly and privately to the person involved.  It's the difference between taking a friend quietly aside and saying, "Your fly is open" versus standing in the middle of the room and shouting "Hey everybody! Look here--his fly is open!"  A public critique always verges on being a public humiliation and the recipient deserves fair warning.

This list is not the place to vent your anger or frustration.  It's all too likely that you'll put into writing something you will live to regret.  Go out and scream, bitch to a friend, take a shower - or better yet, express it directly to the person who is pissing you off, and then come back and think about what you can say to help the situation constructively.  If you're angry when you write something, DON'T SEND IT!  Save it, reread it in a calm mood, and then decide what to send and what to delete.

-- Starhawk

Jack Kornfield's essay on Right Speech

From: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/06/16/the-failure-state-of-clever:

1. The effectiveness of "clever" on other people is highly contingent on outside factors, over which you have no control and of which you may not have any knowledge; i.e., just because you intended to be clever doesn't mean you will be perceived as clever, for all sorts of reasons.

2. The failure mode of clever is "asshole."

(This page created February 2000; revised October 2001 and July 2010 --bobj)