Skillful Speech

In “The Rules of Civility” that President George Washington study as a boy and lived as a man, Rule 21 says..

“Reproach none for the Infirmities of Nature, nor Delight to Put them that have in mind Thereof.”

Sadly, mockery of this sort has entered into the social and political spheres, perpetuating stereotypes and causing general harm.  To stand by and join in vicariously or remaining silent when such is being done not only makes oneself culpable, but diminishes ones character and sense of self-esteem. With this in mind, I would like to address skillful and unskillful speech within a culture where there is a fashion of “roasts.”

Roast coming home to Roost…

Almost 35 years ago, I attended a counseling training, where the trainer, David Grove, flipped a common saying. He said “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will always hurt you.”

In this context, I reflect on the recent “slap in the face” at the Oscars. And I put it in the context of thoroughly baseless political jibes and accusations, “alternative facts,” the vile language of the roasts of celebrities that titillate those in need of having their minds dragged into the gutter, and yellow journalism in general that capitalizes on the habitual and often reflexive nature of the Three Poisons of Ignorance, Attachment, and Aggression.

Harmful, hurtful speech and writing does little to inspire, but always inflames and burns and repeats its poisonous thoughts as spirals of emotional reactivity that, sadly, will spill out in physical violence – more often than not when a loved or respected person in our lives is taken to task for no other reason than to get a rise. I say this last point, because even though we may see that there is a moral component here that demands an “on-the-level” accountability, we still have less problems with such speech when it vilifies or degrades someone we do not like or approve of.


How can we encourage ourselves, in our language (if we cannot stop our minds) to not make toxic dumping a style of communication that is thought of as clever, humorous, or justified in some sense of twisted logic?

That the slap at the Oscars receives so much hue and outcry while pity and praise are offered the victim spewing the poison that started the cascade of events should make us ask serious questions about how we can better be kind, compassionate, and yes, even at times be funny without degradation and humiliation being what gets a rise, a nervous laugh, or applause.

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