Speaking your mind

Speak no EvilThe Leveson Inquiry into the UK press has been published. As expected there’s a lot of political arguing and manoeuvring.  This raises a question that I’ve reflected on but would like to revisit.  When speaking your mind, you have the right to free speech, but what of the responsibilities that come with that right?  They are there, we don’t get to avoid them.

The fact is that we must have the freedom to speak our minds, to put forth our views.  As a blogger I support that, but I do have reservations about the effects of such speech.  Should we be so ready to speak our minds if the consequences for others are harmful?  For example, I have serious reservations with organised, dogmatic religion.  But what if someone was in deep pain, suffering and that person was only comforted by faith in such a religion and wished to discuss it with me?  I may have freedom of speech regarding my views, but is it right that I should use it?  I feel that the answer here is no.  I can gently stand my ground, while respecting their beliefs.

Does this consideration for others in some way violate or weaken my own right to speech?  Again, I feel the answer here is no.  How can my rights be weakened by taking into account the feelings of others?  I’m not sure that they can be. I feel that by mindfully exercising my rights, I strengthen them. Exercising Mindfulness when speaking your mind shows that you can avoid abusing the right.  In the example above, perhaps it would be better to speak another time?  Or better to rephrase it and soften it?  Perhaps when speaking your mind, think of the feelings of others before speaking?

This brings us very neatly into Buddhist thought, as the Buddha visited this territory long ago. In this instance the thing we are looking for is called “Right Speech”.  We can find a definition of this in the Magga-Vibhanga Sutta.

“And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.”

This quote from the Subhasita Sutta expands on the point:

“Speak only the speech that neither torments self nor does harm to others. That speech is truly well spoken. Speak only endearing speech, speech that is welcomed. Speech when it brings no evil to others is pleasant.”

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The image above is taken from the Black Country Museums Flickr page.

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