Right Speech, Prophetic Speech, Political Speech

One of the really cool things about refusing to cede priority to either Christianity or Buddhism in my heart is that I get to draw from both equally deeply. They are, of course, completely different in so many ways, but they do have interesting similarities. For me, though, what’s of a lot of interest is how they both inform how my life takes shape. I’m thinking a lot right now about the Buddhist concept of “Right Speech” and the Judeo-christian prophetic tradition.

“Right Speech” is part of the Buddha’s 8-fold path as the way to end suffering. Right Speech is alongside Right Action, and Right Livelihood, as guidance for ethical behavior. Right Speech means to speak with kindness, and when it is necessary. To refrain from falsehood and deceitful speech, refrain from slanderous and malicious speech, refrain from harsh and offending speech, and refrain from idle chatter, or gossip.

The Prophetic tradition, is that tradition, embodied in prophets like Isaiah and Amos, to Jesus and the disciples, on up to modern-day prophets like Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Those that speak truth to power. Here’s Isaiah 1:21-23:

21 How the faithful city
has become a whore!
She that was full of justice,
righteousness lodged in her—
but now murderers!
22 Your silver has become dross,
your wine is mixed with water.
23 Your princes are rebels
and companions of thieves.
Everyone loves a bribe
and runs after gifts.
They do not defend the orphan,
and the widow’s cause does not come before them.

You might say that’s harsh. And it is. But I would still argue that it is Right Speech. It is necessary. Saying the real truth when fighting for justice requires some bite, sometimes.

Fast forward to the present time. People on all sides of many issues either completely toss right speech out the door, or act as if their false, malicious speech, is alright, or even prophetic. And, by the way, this is not just done by conservatives when talking about liberals or progressives–progressives do it too.

Do we need prophetic speech? True, real, honest prophetic speech? Yes. But we also need to be careful, and know when the time and setting is right for it. And when the time and setting is not right, we must ask ourselves when speaking: is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?