The Texas Bohemian

Word artist. Jack of all Trades.

Conflicts and the word stupid

My daughter has a myspace page. It worries me a little but at least it’s an outlet for her to find friends. Her being on myspace encouraged me to get on there once again and revive my myspace page. I did.

My updated myspace is here: http://www.myspace.com/texas_writer

The past few days I’ve been searching around for Buddhist groups. I found and joined one that lists the “Fourteen Precepts” as given by Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh. Here are two of the precepts:

8. Do not utter words that can create discord and cause the community to break. Make every effort to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

9. Do not say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people. Do not utter words that cause division and hatred. Do not spread news that you do not know to be certain. Do not criticize or condemn things of which you are not sure. Always speak truthfully and constructively. Have the courage to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may threaten your own safety.

Find the complete list here: http://groups.myspace.com/EngagedBuddhism

Notice the underlined portions. Are they not contradictions? I greatly admire the venerable master. I have another quote of his on my myspace page. I would very much like to hear his response to this post.

How is it possible to “speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may threaten …safety” and NOT “utter words that can create discord?” How does one “speak truthfully and constructively” and “speak out about injustice?”

I know the simple answer: just don’t say anything that is offensive. But situations are never simple and conflicts are absolutely never simple. By its very nature conflict defines words as “good” or “bad,” “offensive” or “acceptable.”

I’ll be honest. I struggle at times with certain precepts. Not to any great extent but a little, sometimes, when “kind words” simply do not fit. I have always spoken out about situations of injustice and in doing so have paid the costs. I am disgusted when others do not have the guts to speak out. Lack of courage is a trait I find despicable. But speaking out, of necessity, demands unacceptable language, whether it’s deliberately offensive terms meant to make a point or merely words the other party in the conflict finds offensive.

The word “stupid” is one of those terms that anybody would find offensive if pointed towards themselves. But still, if one does not speak directly and frankly, if one follows the guidelines of modern Politically Correct speech, doesn’t one simply slip into sophistry and superficiality? Where’s the frank truth?

Now, consider these definitions from dictionary.com:

  1. lacking ordinary quickness and keenness of mind; dull.
  2. characterized by or proceeding from mental dullness; foolish; senseless
  3. tediously dull, esp. due to lack of meaning or sense; inane; pointless
  4. annoying or irritating; troublesome
  5. in a state of stupor; stupefied

To say someone or some thing is stupid is to express the opinion that the person or thing is “lacking ordinary quickness,” “foolish, senseless,” “inane or pointless,” “annoying or irritating or troublesome,” and/or “in a state of stupor.”

Spoken in seriousness to someone to their face the word “stupid” is perceived–rightly so–as an insult. Spoken in a generic fashion, about a group or an individual, it is less an insult and more a means to express strong belief or feeling that a person or group of people are not thinking clearly, are confused or misguided, and/or sometimes that they are “annoying or irritating.”

Now, I have used the word “stupid” on occasion. I used it in my diatribe against McCain’s VP pic Palin in a previous post. I do not think SHE is stupid. I did say that people who think she’d make a good vice-president (and president) are stupid. I stand by that statement. I do not speak the word “stupid” as an insult but rather to raise the temperature of the offended so maybe, just maybe, they’ll ask why I would say such a thing. They may skim over my post but they’re highly likely not to skim past being called stupid.

The post on Palin speaks for itself. The point in this post is that I use the word “stupid” for reasons other than to be vindictive or insulting. How it is perceived, though, is entirely up to the reader. Will a reader who supports Palin and McCain understand that I am calling them stupid because I want them to ask why or will they just assume I meant to make them angry. The latter is the most likely outcome. Should I, then, couch my statement in less offensive words, thus: “If you believe Palin would be a good pic then you are being unwise, are in a state of stupor, are dull?” These words are also offensive, though less so, to he or she who will take offense. To those whose skin is a little thicker their response is likely to be, “it’s not true.” End of discussion.

Using a direct and inflammatory word like stupid, then, is not only more effective but more likely to indicate passionate belief. If people are so cowardly that they take offense and slink off with a chip on their shoulder, too bad. I can’t help that. But if someone is spurred to write back in vengeance or, as I would (if I didn’t understand), re-read the arguments to see if I missed something and/or write to ask for more information, then the use of the offensive word has proven effective.

In the specific post about Palin, if I am able to get a few people to question the veracity, integrity and qualifications of the McCain/Palin ticket and, maybe, not vote for them I will have done our nation a huge service for good. Of this I am absolutely convinced. Thus, my passionate stance demanded (if not justified) my use of the word “stupid.”

I whole-heartedly agree with all of Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh’s precepts. My goal is to observe and follow such precepts as closely as possible. But as a human, as an American, as a parent, there are times when one must do and say distasteful things for the sake of truth, justice, and on behalf of those who suffer or who may suffer if no words are spoken or no action is taken.

I would say, “choose your path and your words wisely, Grasshopper, that they do the least damage.” Neither words nor steps can at all times avoid harm just as strolling across a lawn results in vegetation and sometimes living creatures being crushed under foot. On the day we reach full enlightenment we will float above the ground, drifting along in a state of bliss and doing no harm at all. Until that day our feet are held to this earth by gravity and we are destined to suffer the consequences of it.

Thus, we must weigh our words and speech so that it does the most good and makes the greatest effect for good and not necessarily that it does the least amount of immediate harm. Shouting at a child is a sure way to cause them alarm and emotional harm but it is most effective when they are about to fall from a precipice and we cannot reach them in time. The greatest good is not worrying about their feelings but their survival.

Using the word “stupid” in reference to someone who is misguided may cause offense in the short term but if, in the longer term, it causes someone to question, to learn, to reason more about why I and others think so passionately and, maybe, to recognize the validity of our reasoning, the greatest effect for good has been accomplished.

There are many stupid people in this world. I have been one of the stupidest. Though I’m likely to have not liked it I wish someone, somewhere would have come to me long ago and told me how stupid I was being. Maybe, just maybe, they would have brought an end to my suffering from delusions and wrong-headed beliefs long ago, long before I managed to drag myself from the abyss on my own when I finally realized I was stupid. Or maybe I’d just have been offended. I’ll never know. But at least someone would have cared about me enough to have the passion to speak up and not let me slide into the depths as they watched and waved from afar.

September 8, 2008 - Posted by | Religion | , , , , , , , , , , ,

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