UUBF-L: More on Right Speech

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Right Speech as a Dance

Struggle is productive. If we avoid the clash of differing ideas, we do not communicate about anything important; we stunt our individual growth and kill community. The question is how to differ. Here are some suggestions from members of the UUBF-L:

  • Ignoring offensive messages is often more effective at stopping that behavior, than objecting to them. As any parent knows, negative attention can still be a reward.
  • Before you disagree with what someone has written, make the effort to find some value in it. Then start your response with positive words about the part you agree with. This practice will not only help you learn compassion, it will give you the best chance of being heard.
  • If you are feeling angry (etc.) let it rest. Type up a response if you must but do not send it, at least for a day. Then reread it and meditate on it / take a walk before sending it.
  • If the subject is sensitive, reply privately / off list / directly to the person you're responding to.
  • If you feel someone is violating the code of the list, please let them know, off list, and see if you can work it out. Please park your paranoia — and assume the other person's benign intent. We all define right speech differently.
  • What is most important is that everyone feel they are respected and appreciated. We can disagree with each other respectfully and with appreciation.

Like male and female, like night and day, like ying and yang, the use of right speech is a marriage, or dance of the sometimes opposing forces of individual freedom and belonging to a community. All the great conversations happen in the border lands between "opposing" ethics. As UUs we seek to find and dwell in the areas we hold in common.

Writing as Practice

Paying attention to how you use language is a mindfulness practice, and essential to Right Speech.

The following basic writing skills are fundamental to appropriate email communication:

  • Focus and clarity about your agenda
  • Refraining from putting a burden on readers — with attention, for example, to...
    • Spelling, punctuation, and paragraph spacing (If you have a spelling checker, use it even if you don't think you need it.)
    • Limiting the number and size of your postings, so as not to overwhelm
  • Attention to peculiarities of email
    • Including only the relevant portions of a post you are responding to, never forwarding the entire post again to the list at the bottom of your response to the post.
    • Not flaming, not reading too much into what's there — see Electronic Right Speech
  • Speaking from your own experience.
    • Dominick Spirelli recommends talking in the abstract about spiritual practice rather than from a personal point of view.
    • However, abstract language sounds pretentious and phony in comparison to direct reporting.
    • Making "I" statements is taking responsibility for what I say. If I don't own my thoughts and feelings this way, I'm more likely to sound like I'm telling others what to think or feel. Worse yet, I may be slipping into really doing that: speaking only for myself keeps me honest, and encourages mindfulness.
  • Respect for copyright, with proper citation so people can find originals

These human relations skills facilitate any communication:

  • Compassion, tolerance, considerateness, civility
  • Fostering safety to facilitate deep involvement
  • Sensitivity to others' viewpoints and styles of communication
  • Pausing in your conversation so that others may speak. Listening twice as much as you speak.
  • Trying to discover the truths and experiences of others, and finding skillful ways to communicate yours to us.
  • Witnessing your experience mindfully

Skillful attitudes toward yourself help you communicate, keep you honest, and help you on your path.

  • Mindfulness / paying attention
  • An interest in learning about yourself, from your interactions on the list
  • Listening to what's uncomfortable

Electronic Right Speech

In electronic communication, there are two additional factors to keep in mind, besides the ones we're familiar with from older media:

  • It's well recognized that somehow electronic communication invites "flaming"; it's easier on a list to speak extremely.
  • Fewer people are aware that the reverse is true too: we perceive messages as having more emotional content in this medium; they have a much heavier effect here than they do in either in print or in person. Pithily expressed thoughts, for example, can easily come off as offensive.

It's easy to understand that e-communication lacks signals we give in person; emoticons [like :-) ] are an attempt to add some of them back. But why language we would relish in a book is offensive in email, is a puzzle.

  • Perhaps it has to do with the difference Marshall McLuhan observed between books, film and TV : the greater amount of information in TV transmission, although subliminal, allows more passive watching, while film with its fewer frames per second engages us more — and books require even more participation.
  • Does email engage us even more, to the point where we project our attachments/aversions onto the message?

In any case, it's important to use temperate language in email, and to avoid brusqueness. Even jokes often don't communicate well without the presence of the teller. Think about how your words are likely to be received.

Finally, as you read email messages, remember that this is an information-limited medium. The emotions you are reading may be your projections.

There's much more that could be said about "netiquette." For example, see

Respecting Copyright on the UUBF-L

Legally you need to document where a text came from. If it's on a publicly accessible website, give the URL, title of the page, and date you accessed it. If it's on another list, give the name of the list, who sponsors it, location of a website which enables one to join it, date and title of the message.

If it's in print, give the name of the publication, the publisher, the date of publication, and page numbers.

However, even after you've done all that, if you do not have permission it is still illegal to quote the whole article (or large parts of it), and the UUA as well as you can be sued for plagiarism. You must excerpt small parts. If you comment on the author's words when you quote them, you are allowed more length. (Unfortunately there are few hard rules, it's a matter of the court's discretion if the publisher takes issue with you.)

So the best policy is to report on a piece, quoting small parts, and mentioning what ideas in the rest of it you think are important — but talking about them from your point of view, not simply repeating the author's.

It's frustrating to have a really good piece of information, and a place you want to share it where people can benefit from it, and not be allowed to simply make it available. A lot of people are doing it on the Web. But it's creating a lot of suffering for authors, who don't get very well paid for their work to begin with. We need to act more responsibly.

UUBF-L :: A Code of Courtesy and Kindness :: Important List Mechanics