January 9, 2011

Violence in Everyday Speech.

Here is a powerful commentary on the Giffords shooting yesterday, in which Keith Olbermann asks figures in the media to drop violent speech, while he also takes responsibility for his own contribution:


It is interesting, and not surprising, that vitriolic rhetoric in the media has come to such a head. I remember almost a year ago, I was remarking to a friend that everyday lingo had become shockingly violent. My twitter feed was filled with expressions like “Killer,” “Bloody,” and “Murder” (as in: “The birds are so loud this morning. Bird Murder,” or “I’m going to get a Tommy’s, Burger Murder,” etc.)

I think it’s important to remember the power of speech in influencing our culture. And while there’s certainly plenty of angry pundits and politicians out there, the path to “enlightened society” probably begins with the speech of each one of us.

This situation reminds me of the Buddhist notion of “Right Speech” from the Eightfold Path, which instructs us to abstain from lying, divisive speech, abusive speech, and idle chatter. Today, as the karma of “wrong” speech feels eerily palpable, I find it useful to contemplate what this means, and how it could manifest both in our everyday conduct and in the broader spheres of media and culture.

I am also reminded of Jon Stewart’s manifesto during his “Rally to Restore Sanity,” when he called for people in favor of (in essence) “right conduct” to join his team.  In my opinion, he nailed both the solution and the underlying problem when he said:

“We’re looking for the people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat; who feel that the loudest voices shouldn’t be the only ones that get heard; and who believe that the only time it’s appropriate to draw a Hitler mustache on someone is when that person is actually Hitler. Or Charlie Chaplin in certain roles.”

To see Jon Stewart’s moving closing speech for The Rally to Restore Sanity click here.


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