In the cacophony of clicks, clatter, bells, and whistles that is social media, the art of conversation has been reduced to drive-by comments—swift, reckless, and as enriching as a fast-food binge, and usually as enjoyable as a carjacking. Our keyboards and smartphones are battlegrounds where restraint meets impulse, and, sadly, impulse often wins. Yet, in this era of digital verbosity, the Buddhist eightfold path offers an antidote to this affliction—a call to right speech remains ever relevant.
Right speech, one of the ethical imperatives of Buddhism, isn’t about censorship; it’s about intention, awareness, and the karmic ripple effect of words. Imagine if, before spewing a half-baked retort based on a headline skimmed with one eye on the television, we paused, breathed, and considered the weight of our words and the comment we felt mindlessly compelled to spew from our smartphones. Right speech isn’t an archaic muzzle but a revolutionary act of freedom from the knee-jerk need to be part of the noise, to throw your single penny into a fountain overflowing with coins.
Scroll through any comment section and you’ll witness a battleground of unbridled tongues (or fingers, in this case). Each comment is often more about the commenter’s eagerness to speak than any meaningful engagement with the article, and often telling others more about themselves than they realize. The endless stream of terse comments is mostly worthless idle chatter. (Did you read the article, Karen?) It’s as if the act of commenting is an end in and of itself—a noisy echo chamber where listening and understanding are casualties trampled underfoot by the rush to be heard and seen.
Although it would fall under the warning against idle chatter, I’m not talking about your “So cute!” comment on Aunt Janet’s 400th picture of her cat’s lazy eye. The internet needs more lazy-eyed cat pictures and Aunt Janets. And in those instances, social media is working as it should—connecting us to family and friends scattered across a busy, noisy, and often harsh world.
The drive to voice our opinion that I’m referencing, even when it’s half-formed, clashes with our Buddhist contemplative tradition, which teaches that every action—including speech—should arise from a place of awareness. What would happen if we treated every comment as if it were a pebble dropped in water, its ripples reaching far and wide? The same could be said for every social media post, but that is a whole other psychological rabbit hole.
Restraint as rebellion, attention as an act of revolution.
The precepts built around the teaching of right speech are not simply a means to shackle the unruly but a way to unchain ourselves from our basest impulses. By connecting with this moral imperative, we learn to choose words that enlighten, engage, and encourage. Our words may even ignite emotions in others or trouble them deeply, but they should come from a clear sense of awareness and intention. This isn’t control; it’s liberation—a path to awakened interaction that can turn the comment section from a ridiculous romper room of Pavlovian responses into a space for introspective dialogue that furthers the dharma (I can dream).
For those brave minds willing to swim against the rough rapids of hasty and, let’s say it—worthless—commenting, here’s a radical proposal: read the article. Fully. Reflect. Then—if you must—leave a comment that contributes, that respects the silent work of reading, and that honors the exchange of ideas. This is right speech for the digital age—restraint as rebellion, attention as an act of revolution.
The comment section is a microcosm of the world. It can be a wasteland of worthless words or a refuge of thoughtful exchange. By applying right speech, we can choose the latter. We can choose to be part of a solution that reveres silence as much as speaking, that values reflection over reaction, and that places understanding at the heart of communication. Or choose the wasteland of hungry ghosts wandering in a state of self-inflicted ignorance. Choice is the key operative here.
So the next time you’re about to launch into a comment, pause. Think. Reflect. Your words have power. Use them wisely and intentionally. This is right speech. Each moment, each action is a great sutra unfolding before us, teaching the dharma. Your digital footprint reveals the path you’re on, one comment at a time. And be careful! The author might be lurking and waiting to pounce—and you don’t want to be that Chad they call out with the burn, “Did you even read the article?”