I’ve got two more derivatives following from the Negative Derivative (D2). These two have to with how we talk to each other and are taken from the Buddhist concept of Pure Speech.
Derivative 9: Abstain from Harsh Speech (The Quiet Derivative)
Anyone who has been a child (or rather can remember being a child) knows that words can hurt. They can cause the suffering that the Hippocratic Corollary (C3-3) tells us not to cause. So we must be careful with what we say to each other.
The obvious ways to hurt with speaking are insults. But we can be insulting without direct insults, and if we are not careful with our words and our tone, we can being insulting without even trying very hard. I am certainly guilty of this, but just because we are weak and fail to live up to an ideal does not mean we are insincere in espousing that ideal. More to the point, I think that calling it “harsh speech” is instructive in how to manage it. If we try for the opposite of harsh speech (soft speech), then we can avoid being unintentionally insulting.
This brings us into the realm of swearing. Some people get very upset when you use swear words, or even some slang terms that aren’t even swear words like “that sucks” or “that pisses me off.” On the one hand, there is nothing necessarily insulting about these words, It is the mind of the listener that turns them into suffering. But if we are honest with ourselves (and if we can’t be honest with ourselves there is no hope of morality), we use swear words because we want to provoke that sort of reaction. So it is as much us causing it as them creating it. Which is why I try to stick to non-standard swear words like gorramit in this blog.
Derivative 10: Abstain from Divisive Speech (The Gossipless Derivative)
When we gossip about someone behind their back, there’s a chance that it will get back to them, and cause them suffering. If we are trying to minimize suffering, do we want to take that chance?
While you’re thinking about that, consider what else is going on when you gossip about someone. You’re telling person A bad things about person B. How is that going to affect person A’s opinion of person B? It’s going to lower it, and create divisions. By the Unity Principle, these divisions are artificial, and will create false expectations. By the Cause Principle, these false expectations will create suffering.
So we should be careful about saying things about a person we wouldn’t say to their face, and we should be careful about creating divisions within our social groups. Certainly there are times when saying bad things about others is good. If they stiffed you on some money they owed you, warning a friend not to lend them money could create less suffering. But the key is creating less suffering, so be careful that you do not create more suffering than you relieve.