31. Don’t malign others

When we malign someone, our intention is to cause harm. Our words are spiteful and ill-spirited. There is a saying that “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” But in fact words do have power and they certainly can hurt.

In working with the slogans, we are working not only with our actions, but with what is behind them. For instance, when we say something, we should ask ourselves why we are saying it, and for what purpose. Will what we say help the situation or not? Are we trying to connect with someone or get rid of them? Are we trying to help them or to destroy them? Or maybe we are talking just to talk, to fill the space because we are uneasy with the silence.

If we need to malign others to make us feel good about ourselves by comparison, we will never feel all that great. And at the other extreme, when we encounter people who are exceptional, that approach will make us feel pathetic in comparison. According to this slogan we should stop that whole destructive approach.

Not maligning does not mean that we do not notice differences in people. It does not mean that we should not recognize people’s hateful or destructive attitudes and weaknesses when we encounter them or that we should not speak up. Everything does not just become a mush. But when we see other people’s problems without encumbering our perception by the need to prop up our own insecure ego, we can respond more directly and appropriately. By stopping the habit of maligning, not only will we do less harm to others, but we will also begin to free ourselves from the need for such props.

Today’s practice

Pay attention to your speech and to how you talk about and to other people.  What is the difference between speaking critically and using speech to harm or to destroy?

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