Practicing Loving Speech Online

Always Stunning, The Cherry Blossoms

I’ve been thing about writing and commenting online lately. Probably more than most, I have a history of mixing it up and leaving a comment or three that left heads spinning. In the past year, I’ve made a move to practice more loving (or benevolent) speech online.

Choosing to invest in kinder speech, and to not leave a path of strife on the interwebs requires mindfulness and acceptance of my character defects. I don’t pull punches. When it comes to tough discussions, I fight to win. That means someone’s going to be upset most of the time.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post that lit off a movement. The post was written because I had said critical things behind two colleagues’ backs in a private group, and felt I needed to make these statements publicly or not at all.

The post, while representative of my general views sans the personal call-outs, still haunts me. Regardless of the issue, in hindsight my words caused significant pain, and set off a bitter blog war.

Last week, I put my hand out to one of those colleagues though I disagree with him frequently. It’s just blogging and marketing, not Syrian genocide. Life moves on and so have I.

Promise and Failure

Me at the Nats Game

This issue directly correlates with my zen beliefs, which encourage loving speech and deep listening as embodied by the fourth mindfulness practice.

I try to practice the mindfulness trainings, and even have a zen name, which translated to English is Infinite Compassion of the Heart. When I look at my speech online historically, I see a consistent failure to meet the promise my name holds.

Zen Buddhism is funny in that it’s really not a religion, more of a living ethic or integrity system. That’s why someone like Phil Jackson can call himself a Zen Christian. The two are not in conflict (at least from the buddhist perspective). Point being, you strive to achieve zen ideals in daily life, not commandments to live by or go to hell.

More often than not since last fall, I’ve maintained a mindful tone.

I’m not a boy scout, though.

Sometimes I screw up, like here on Margie’s blog. Sometimes the situation bears breaking my own rule and waging public criticism (like this Komen post).

Sometimes I intentionally curse on Facebook or here because I don’t believe in the facade of personal branders. People curse and have bad moments as well as good ones. Like these people are angels 100% of the time in their real life.

One thing Zen has taught me is to embrace your flaws and bad parts as you seek to grow your better attributes.

Restraint

White Cherry Blossoms

In my experience, the next step in public discourse is learning when to use words, and when to be silent.

Perhaps the other party really does suck, or they’re truly offensive. How to handle these situations? It’s easy to be funny, snarky, cute and, quite frankly, nasty. But to quote an old friend, two assholes don’t make a situation better.

It’s much harder driving home a point without taking victims. Can you wage public criticism in a general way?

Commenting and posting has obvious marketing value, but if the conversation offers little consequence to the larger efforts of business and society, then I consider whether to invest a comment. Often, I’d rather be quiet than enter the conversation wading pool.

Sometimes it’s just easier to share a picture that shows beauty or life in progress than say anything.

Silence is a choice. Whether it’s because I don’t have anything substantive to add or because my words may hurt someone, restraint of tongue and pen works.

I may be less fun, but all in all, it’s a better way to live. There’s less virtual blood on my hands, and I feel better for it.

Do you practice loving speech online?

  • I remember when you decided to do this.   I pretty much followed suit.   Life is better.   

    Onward.

    • geofflivingston

      Yup, forward. Glad to hear I have a brother in arms!

  • One of the things that I have tried to adopt in my entire business model, and as part of the way I work with businesses as clients, is the idea of “others first”. I believe that as individuals, and as businesses, if put others first, we’ll actually be more successful than if we focus on ourselves and our own profit. 

    Sure, maybe we won’t make as much money, but maybe we will. It’s less of a ‘money grab’ and more of a grab for something much more meaningful.

    I applaud you in this, and as a Christian I come at the same thing from a different perspective. I make mistakes and fall, but see so much negativity.

    One area where I’ve tried to change this is to promote positivity on my blog. The social web is the first place we go when we want to complain about a business, and we often react fast. “I’ve been waiting in line at this restaurant for TEN WHOLE MINUTES! This place sucks!”.

    We are impatient and we’ve lost the ability to measure the moment and cut people some slack. We clean house and throw the baby out with the bathwater, when in fact our bad experience at a restaurant might be due to something as simple as the waitress just having received some bad news on the phone, or maybe not feeling well at that moment. We paint with our ugly broad brushes.

    And we do the same when reacting to individuals (friends) on Facebook and Twitter. 

    Thanks for this, Geoff, and it’s certainly something I need to work on more and will continue to work on. It’s a process, not a once and done thing.

    •  Yeah, I agree with the holistic negativity. I also perceive peer pressure to be negative, that you’re not cool if you don’t drop pithy douchebarrgery like comments here and there.  Again, to me that’s easy. What’s hard is making the same point without being a smart ass. 

      The other thing I like in your comment is the unwillingness to cut people slack.  We’re all so judgmental and live in glass houses. It’s as if we have all appointed ourselves God of Righteousness to tell everyone else they are wrong.  First of all, there are many courses to the sea, so we may be right and they may be right, too. 

      But even when others are wrong, it’s important to acknowledge we all have learning and experience processes. If we bang on someone’s hands will they get it?  Maybe.  More likely, they will react, entrench in defensiveness, and become slower to change. By harsh criticism we achieve the opposite effect that the words were intended to have.

      • And in the online space we have to be even more careful, where misinterpretation of words, without the benefit of visual cues, body language, and voice inflections is impossible. 

        This is the double-edged portion of what Bulwer-Lytton was referring to when he said “The pen is mightier than the sword”. Words can do amazing things, but they can also be hurtful.

        Since you put a spiritual bent on this, it reminds me of the Biblical passage in James where the tongue is referred to as a small rudder that can steer a huge ship, or a small flame that can set a forest on fire. 

        I’ve seen both the good and the damage that can be done via our words, which can travel around the world in an instant online. It’s a very big responsibility. 

        • geofflivingston

           Well said, and it’s a responsibility that can grasp you when you didn’t even know you had it.

  • Patrice Tanaka

    Geoff, this is a great post that I think will contribute to more civil conversations on- and off-line.  I share your struggles between being brutally honest and sometimes devastating others AND being the kind and loving person I know myself to be.  In my older years, I’m realizing that creating healthy, sustainable communities starts at the granula level by our daily interactions with others.  The intention that I express every morning is that my every interaction with others be enhancing and affirming and that I communicate what I have to say in a kind and loving way.  I sometimes fail, but I’m better at this than I’ve been in the past.  To your point, it is just about being mindful.  Thank you!

    • We all fail. I liken it to a stock ticker, if the general movement is up over time, you have to be happy.  Great to see you, Patrice. Next time I am in New York let’s do tea.

  • Our thoughts, words and actions have the power to affect others – positively or negatively – and if our intent is make the world a better place, using kindness and compassion as the basis for all three will prove to be the most beneficial. Let’s hope that others follow your lead of mindfulness over ego, online and off.

  • Funny as I think back 25+ years ago to when I read “Your Body Believes Every  Word You Say” and started sharing this message  – people thought I was nuts. Now with Quantum Physics etc… there is a much deeper understanding of how a slight shift in energy can be the answer.

    Recently had a friend tell me my words in FB are not always what I intend and could be seen as critical.  I was astounded as I have learned from a great Tao teacher – to push the nasty bits out is not the answer, we must embrace them.

    Each day I ask myself how can I embrace these nasty bits I see and in that understanding, be a piece of the solution to transmute the energy instead of grow it.

    Imagine a world where we all do that — thanks for being part of the solution

    •  See, this is what I am talking about. Embracing the nasty bits. I think the pure ideal is impossible, but understanding and deeply embracing and thinking through the nasty parts is what allows us to see them, and choose (or not) to act differently.  Namaste!

    • There is a huge distinction between embracing the nasty bits and pushing them out. I respect you and what you do. But I have experienced what your friend might regard as ‘critical’ and it’s not a good feeling. We all have lessons to learn, mostly about ourselves. Look within and truly see. I try to do that everyday. Namaste.

  • I have certain “safe spaces” where I can freely vent about things, which means that in general I am an evangelist, not a critic.  I feel that if you push positive energy towards valuable content and ideas then those will rise to the top, and if you ignore the crappy ones they will sink to the bottom.  (This is parenting 101, btw :)) 

    I could easily publicly rant about plenty of things, but I’ve been told that my being silent actually speaks volumes.  Then if there’s something really worth saying, it has more impact, as of course it’s important not to “do nothing” in certain circumstances.

    So I don’t know about “loving speech” specifically, but encouraging speech, definitely, all the time.

    • geofflivingston

      Knowing what I know, even spaces to vent aren’t helpful to the larger conversation. How is putting a knife in someone’s back privately encouraging to ypur peers? We all do this, but in my book you can’t compartmentalize this behavior. Thank you for your differing opinion.

      • Who put a knife in whose back? Confused.

        • geofflivingston

          I’m sorry, let me be clearer by using an example. 

          So, I vented in the same way you are talking about just yesterday on Path about something my wife did. I did it because I was extremely angry and got shut down when I tried to talk to her about it. My comments on Path were on a scale of 1-10, a 3 or 4, accusatory, but not demeaning.

          If she saw those comments, I am sure she would be offended. She would feel I stabbed her in the back. Today when reading those comments, I was saddened.  Saddened on several levels, but also knowing that I had hurt myself by saying these things.  Because I might do the same thing about any of my Path friends somewhere else. That’s definitely an unintended message sent.

          Now, I know how this reads. Is it epic and tear jerking? No. Honestly, the remorse is a slight pang, not a plague. But it’s not something I want to get into the habit of.

          Will I do it again?  We all know I will. I will have a bad hour, a bad moment where I screw up. I just want to try to reduce those moments as much as possible.

          I hope that explains my thinking. 

          Regardless, to each their own. Your way is not wrong. It’s just not my way.  My intent was to report back after an eight month check in on trying not to clean people’s clocks online, and here we are 30+ comments including some rigorous debate.

          C’est la vie.

  • danperezfilms

    I always believed (and still do) that criticism does indeed make the world a better place. If we all played nice with each other and kept our mouths shut (when we desperately want to voice our disapproval), the world would actually suck more. 

    In the social space (where ignorance reigns), if we allow the one-eyed man to rule the kingdom of the blind, we’re not making a better world at all. If you think about all the careers, ideas, products, businesses, etc that were launched after harsh criticism, you’d realize that as much as our words of dissent can tear down – they can also build up. 

    There’s name-calling and being offensive (which I do not approve, though I also have not always been perfect when it comes to this) and then there’s telling someone they’re wrong, their idea is stupid, their point is weak…and illustrating why. 

    If your religious beliefs lead you otherwise, more power to you. But let’s not think that not saying anything is gonna make the world a much better place…

    Just my stupid two cents. 

    PS – Oh, and as good as I can dish it out, I can take it.

    • I’m glad you can take it because we’re going to disagree on this.  There’s having a conversation with someone, and presenting a different point of view with YOU happen to think is right.

      Then there’s this statement, “their idea is stupid, their point is weak…and illustrating why.” 

      While we may feel that way, that kind of approach puts people on the defensive, holding onto their idea rather look at  different ways of seeing an answer to the situation or problem.  Further, there’s nothing about calling an idea stupid or weak that will make someone feel good, or like talking with you. There’s no compassion in that.

      I will give you kudos for having the balls to at least present a differing view, whether it’s presented as stupid and weak or not. To simply stab people in the back privately is ball-less cowardice. It’s nasty gossip. Nothing more than that.

      •  By the way, even the forcefulness of my response shows that I need work in this area, too.  Glass house owned.

      • danperezfilms

        I figured we’d disagree. My take is that stupid people who say stupid things should be put on the defensive – it might actually smarten them up. Just my opinion, of course.

        Oh, and there’s nothing I’d say in private that I’d not express publicly. I got nothing and nobody to fear in the social media community. You keep mentioning the “stab people in the back privately” thing. Not my style. Never has been – not where I come from. 

        Besides, I’m not the one who started a private facebook group for just that purpose…
        Just saying ;)

        • You know something, Dan, now I’m mad.  I take issue with this comment.  I did not start Punk Views to stab people in the back, I started it to talk about differing points of view and fresh looks at online media. It turned into bashitus and I left it because people were using it for that purpose.

          I know people love the group, and its been 18 months since I was a part of it, but generally, I am  not proud of starting a group that people use to trash others.

          • Perhaps it’s unwise to make definitive statements about groups which you haven’t been part of since the winter of 2011. 

            Otherwise? I love your post, although I doubt I will follow you as far down your chosen path as you’ve gone. 

          • geofflivingston

            Perhaps I dob’t care to be called a founder with such a group. I rarely hear good things about it.

          • geofflivingston

            I deleted and am going to rephrase my comment to you Bob: So long as you all still refer to me as your founder and members come on my site and say things like, “I’m not the one who started a private facebook group for just that purpose… Just saying ;)” then I’m going to comment. Like it or not. I don’t find such behavior to be representative of me, and my beliefs, and I am going to respond.

          • I’m not part of “you all.” I’m me. I didn’t say those things. I speak for me and me only. 

          • geofflivingston

            Brutal truth: Each one of you makes the composite.  Don’t come here and tell me what’s wise to comment on and not.  Who made you the Pope? You have the option of coming back or not returning.

          • danperezfilms

            Everyone, at some point or the other, trashed someone else privately in that group. Everyone. Every day. I remember very well. Whether or not you started it for that reason, that’s what went on there.

            I was never comfortable being part of a group that included several people who were afraid to speak their minds publicly, for fear of retribution or of being cast out of the “social media fraternity” like a leper.
            Fortunately, that type of thing isn’t the norm any more. It’s still a place to vent but it’s also a warm and friendly place. You’d be proud.

            Good luck with the whole Zen thing. The rest of the world will carry on as it always has been and always will be.

            Cheers.

             

  • Hi Geoff. I love you like a brother, so I am going to take a few liberties and be truthful and honest. Humans gossip. It’s a terrible flaw. Sometimes that gossip isn’t so nice and then humans feel badly afterwards. But to me, actions often speak louder than words. Venting has a place in psychology, like Italians, a lot of Jews I know vent, kvetch, and then it’s over. But their actions? Kindness towards others without expectations of a return? That’s an entirely different thing. And much more important. The web is filled with impolite statements, words not just thought but put down ‘on virtual paper’ because it’s easier to hide behind a keyboard than reveal oneself. In many cases, the very people who issue the statements would never express them publicly. Me? I believe in truth and transparency. And in trying not to judge. The group you ‘created?; Well, the truth is, we never really knew it’s intent and I’ve said that to you publicly and privately. But what I do know is that you spurred a bunch of individuals, human individuals who may have never had the chance to get to know one another intimately, to come together and share the good, wonderful, bad, ugly, painful and most personal. That’s Zen my brother. That’s all positive. The words? They don’t mean crapola if there is not true action (and this, coming from a writer no less). We all play in the same sandbox. Some of us are more verbal than others. But as humans? We are flawed. We says things about people we care about in public places. And we say things about people we don’t care about in public places. But at the end of the day? Compassion, if it is truly there, shows itself. 

    • geofflivingston

      I love many people in that group. I do not approve if its penchant for ripping people up, perceived or real. Choosing to use words one way or another is an act , too. That’s also zen.
      Zen is embracing both. I can still love my friends regardless of their acts/words. I can also choose to abstain from these conversations.
      What is most remarkable about the comments on the post – a post about choosing to walk away from unmindful speech — is that the protests only seem to come from members of this group. I think that speaks volumes.

      • danperezfilms

        Maybe because these other folks only see a one-eyed jack – we’ve seen the other side. 

        If you’re turning over a new leaf in life, good luck with that. Really. Hope it serves you well. The world’s made up of a lot of different people – all of them necessary to keep things in balance… 

        • geofflivingston

          I never denied my other side. In fact I talked pretty openly about it in the post. I know I’m angry, and mean, and nasty, and cruel at times. I’ll never deny this side of me. It’s part of who I am.
          I am choosing a different path today. I feel better when I walk better. And everyone enjoys the conversation more. That’s all.
          Thanks for wishing me well.

  • Geoff, you are amazing. Thanks for posting this.

    Over the last two years, I’ve also been working on cultivating more peace in my life. It take a lot of courage to practice mindfulness, and I respect anyone who shares their successes and failures.

    •  Thanks for this update, Chris.  Peace doesn’t come easy, but it’s more rewarding in the end…

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  • Can I ask what you guys are so worked up about?  This content marketing, social media expert business is far from life and death.

    Want to hear some life and death stuff? Listen to this audio of one political blogger making a hoax phone call to the LA Police and claiming to be another political blogger (his rival) and having the SWAT team dispatched to the rivals house with guns drawn. http://youtu.be/cISJnysCxck

    That’s scary.

    You are pledging to try and be a better person online Geoff and I for one applaud you for it.

    • geofflivingston

      Thank you, Rick.

  • This was a fascinating read, right on through the comments and your open struggle there too:-).  I think it’s great that you openly address your efforts.  Perfection in life is not an option even though I wish it were.

    It took me several years after I heard about mindfulness until I understood it.  I don’t know why, but it was very hard for me to grasp.  Once I did, and started practicing it, it made all the difference for me on the inside and hopefully on the outside. It took a lot of work and still does sometimes.  

    For me, it used to be the attacks came when I felt threatened and sometimes it was my perception not the other person’s intent. 

    I wanted to fight back with all my might – and yes, I had my moments to be sure and they were not pretty and I am not proud.  For others it may be another reason. But I don’t feel the desire much anymore because I learned to understand it came from my own fear. 

    That’s my story, the fear part I mean, I am in no way putting that on you, just thought it worth adding to the discussion.  

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  • Cody Ann

    I, like you, can exercise a tonality in my words from my honesty that can be deemed offensive by others….. and in one hand, I see this as liberating, enlightening, and down right honest… and the world needs more honesty and tough love… on the other hand, it turns readers away before they experience my point in the first place, and maybe this is insensitive to others needs and wishes,,,,,,,, and so balance is locating honesty with kindness…. I am growing….

  • I like the idea behind your post. But, you REALLY need to proofread. Your first line has a typo. I’ve posted this to Scoop.it and Snip.it. Hope you fix the typos.