The problems of untruth and the spreading of it by so many people who should know better, keeps coming up in my mind. Sometimes I feel like the Dutch boy who has to plug leaks in the dike with his fingers. It would be great if we lived in a world where truthfulness was held in greater public esteem than lies, gossip, defamation and other dishonesty. I’d like to just post one blog post about my displeasure regarding the pandemic of hate and lies these days and consider my concerns finished. That’s not the case, though, because the problem seems to be increasing rather than diminishing.
A few acquaintances have advised me not to focus on the problem of so much false speech. They say that people just tune out of caring about such worries. I realize that I’m just a tiny voice in the wilderness, but I cannot just take an apathetic attitude about false speech. False speech is a mental cancer that is eating away at the very core of our nation and the world.
This is not a new phenomenon by any stretch of the imagination. Apathy and denial are not new reactions to the situation either. Untruth must be dealt with in order for civil discourse to thrive. We can’t just take care of some untruths and then wash our hands of any caring or responsibility. Dirt comes into the public arena the same as our hands become dirty. Regular attention to hygiene is necessary to prevent harmful results. That is why minority groups have antidefamation organizations.
If we allow untruth to go unchallenged, the lies become encrusted ino the public discourse. Once a person or group of people are besmirched, there’s a long process of debunking the resulting myths and prejudices that result. Unchecked and unchallenged, the false speech usually leads to other serious threats to the defamed person or group. History is filled with numerous examples.
I can think of times in my own past that I wish I’d have spoken out about a falsehood. I can also recall some times I wish I’d have said something a little differently. There are a few times that I thoughtlessly repeated questionable statements about other people. If we are honest with ourselves, we all are guilty of proliferating false speech at one time or another. The effects of an unskillfully chosen set of words can last for years or a lifetime.
When the false speech is part of the strategy for power and control by authority figures and pundits, the damage to many people can be immense and tragic. I keep harping on the subject of prejudice. That’s because prejudice is a justification and internal false speech to which we are all vulnerable.
As individuals and as a society, it is necessary to be mindful of lapses of honesty. The perennial problems of xenophobia, bigotry, homophobia, sexism, nationalism, and other sorts of bias keep popping up. Instead of questioning the internal false speech with honest soul searching and quality time alone, we often take the easy way out by justifying and vindicating our opinions. We tell ourselves that some political, religious, or other expert authority agrees with us. But there is a yet tiny voice inside that knows the lie.
Our conversations and written words are powerful things. They have an enormous effect on ourselves and how we view the world and others who share that world. Our words have tremendous impact on those to whom we address them and to those who overhear us. This impact can eventually multiply and greatly affect disinterested numbers of people, too.
False or skillful speech goes beyond mere words alone. Body language, gestures and demeanor are just as powerful. Our tone of voice is a universal expression of communication. Have you noticed that one’s tone of voice towards a pet dog or cat will affect the animal?
There are professionals who have studied these aspects and utilize them to their own or to their benefactors advantage. It is easy to understand how a combination of less than truthful words and images along with non-verbal techniques can cause immense harm to others. If a public persona is less than ethical and fosters false speech, great harm is the result.
One very effective way to defuse false speech is through skepticism. The best approach is to not take the talk and writings of others at face value. This is a critical point to make regarding controversial issues. This is especially true with controversial issues that are emotionally loaded, issues on which we take an immediate and fervent stand. These are the times when we are most prone to foster internal false speech. We mentally stock our minds with justifications and rationalizations. We search for vindication from our favorite experts, pundits, and public figures to validate our strong opinions. The false speech becomes calcified and more confrontational.
Here is where we have earned a time out. Here is where we remember our inate compassion and empathy. Here is where we walk a mile in the other’s shoes. Here is where we cultivate avoidance of harm. Here is where we avoid false speech.
Here is where we begin to cultivate real caring and the sense of community. In the big picture, here is where we become ethical, harmonious citizens of our nation and the world at large.
The Blue Jay of Happiness has noticed that most of our conversations deal with people who are not present. Talking about people who are not present is the definition of gossip. The people who are not present cannot affirm nor deny what we say about them. Why gossip?