I see so much hurt in the world by ill spoken words, be they by politicians, celebrities, journalists or by us all through unsocial social media. “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me” – a child’s rhyme to defend against words said that are meant to hurt.
But words can and do hurt, in the moment and in creating deep seated resentment and the desire for revenge. Hurtful words lead to more hurtful words, and hurtful words lead to hurtful actions. It is a spiral of decline, hatred and intolerance and is becoming more and more prevalent.
Our public debates are becoming increasingly polarised, driven to extremes and more openly aggressive. Consider the dialogue on Brexit in the UK and Europe, where to hold a different opinion from another has now lead to hurtful emotionally driven tirades of abuse. The widening gap in the USA between the Democrats and Republicans is symptomatic of an accelerating political drift at a “Pangean” scale. There is a growing intolerance of difference with vocal minorities overwhelming silent majorities. I believe much of this polarisation has happened through some platforms on social media, anti-social media! Let me explain.
If I bump into you in the street we would both apologise, smile and carry on our way “Sorry”. This seems to be the way no matter who might have been at fault. But, if I “cut you up” whilst driving my car, the likelihood is that either one of us might just mouth an expletive reinforced with some internationally recognised hand signals indicating an annoyance or frustration. We would not do that without consequence in the street, but we do when we are isolated and detached, safe behind our steel and glass in our cars. And so it is with remote social media. The personal contact has gone. We hide behind technology. We are not likely to meet to continue the debate. Like a coward hiding behind an impenetrable shield I vent my frustration feelings safe that I will not be held to account.
Add up Remote, Detached, Unaccountable and Frustrated and you get Intolerance and Hurt.
But no matter by what means we communicate we can challenge this equation. There is a beautifully simple yet effective filter for our words that I recently discovered in some Buddhist teachings. It is called – Three Gates.
Before you speak let your words pass through 3 gates.
Is it true?
Is it necessary?
Is it kind?
Is it true? A great first filter that would cut out most of the noise. Is it based on truth, or is it opinion, conjecture, prejudice or an exaggeration led by our subconscious confirmation bias. So much current public debate is based on un-truths. But there is no absolute truth as we know, so this cannot be the only gate for our words.
Is it necessary? Do you need to say it, or is it just emotionally driven? Will it help the other person to grow, understand or change? Will it add value to their life and yours? Will it help positively change the world? For whose benefit or you saying these words? What is the intent – positive or negative?
Is it kind? What do we mean by kind? To me, kind incorporates both intent and style; the motivation behind the words and the style of delivery. Kind does not mean soft; it maybe harsh. Kind is compassionate – understanding with positive action. Would it hurt the other or cause offence?
There is fact and intent tied up with the Three Gates that dispenses the potential for hurt.
I may be overweight.
You tell me so – “Manley, you need to lose weight”
That may be true.
It may be necessary to tell me, to help me lose weight.
And, if the intent is pure, it can also be kind!
If it passes ALL 3 gates then we move from hurt to growth, from prejudice to tolerance and from anger to compassion.