So the next “step” on the Eightfold Path is Right Speech. Right speech is defined by the Buddha as abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from idle chatter and gossip. This one is pretty straight forward. Don’t lie. Don’t demean others with your words. Don’t gossip and talk badly about others in front of them or behind their backs. All of these add suffering to the world.
It’s important that you think about what you’re going to say before you say it(right intention), and the consequences of those words. Our words live on forever in the hearts and minds of those that listen; our friends, family, colleagues, potential employers. Anyone. Your words have value, and you should treat your speech as such. Why should one take you seriously if your speech is filled with sarcasm, gossip, stereotypes, and half-truths? We must be mindful of our speech. Our speech has consequences. When practicing right speech, we should make sure our words are of benefit to others.
So what about when you’re arguing with someone? What if they are being a jerk? If it’s the truth, can’t I tell someone that they’re being a jerk? Hmm….. no. You’ve abandoned right view already. The person isn’t being a “jerk”. Let’s look at an example. Let’s say that I was pulling into the parking lot of Homebrew Heaven , my local home brew store, just about to pull into the front spot and some guy in his Tahoe cuts me off and pulls in to the spot I was going for, even though I had my blinker on. I might honk, flip him off, and call him a jerk or other choice word (what I like to refer to as a Michigan wave) as I went about looking for a new spot. This would be my knee-jerk reaction, and it would be severely lacking in skill (Buddhists talk about actions being skillful or unskillful).
Right speech (and right intention and right mindfulness and right view) teaches me that the Right thing to do would be to find another spot. To allow him to have that parking spot. Maybe he was in a huge hurry. Maybe he was delivering some tragic news to one of the employees. Or maybe he was just not mindful of others. In any case, right view teaches me that he wasn’t being a jerk, because all that happend was he parked his car. It was my attachment to wanting that parking spot that would have caused the knee-jerk reaction. And right speech teaches me to think before I speak, (this includes hand gestures) and make sure my words are words of encouragement, that they are truthful and beneficial. Calling that guy an asshole would have only caused more suffering and made both of our days worse.