“The Precepts in Action – Precept #6: Not Discussing the Faults of Others” by Lorna Simons
“Do not dwell on past mistakes—create wisdom from ignorance. . . . Do not engage in fault-finding. Do not condone haphazard talk.” – Kyojukaimon
This precept is particularly challenging for me. I have a lifelong tendency to judge both myself and others for perceived mistakes and erroneous ways of thinking, and that often leads to the kind of “giving advice” that is really a way for me to show that I know best, that I am (I firmly believe) smarter, wiser, and more clear-seeing than others. This precept is strongly related to Right Speech, which is something I have been mindful of and working on for many months now. To my credit, I have at least chipped away a little at the habit energy of my tendency to judge and comment. And I also have to admit that I am very far from perfection!
I see two processes at work here. One is simple observation, which can be neutral, precise, clean and even compassionate because it provides information that can lead to skillful action. The other results from that nanosecond jump from observation to judgment, which is self-absorbed, distancing, and has that nasty little “kick” of self-righteousness. Which leads me to what I think is underneath judgment and criticism—feelings of fear, lack, and inferiority that make me feel I must protect my territory and convince others that I am better than them and than I feel I actually am.
A simple, homely example may help clarify what I mean. I share a house with a family that includes two children, and also has a very casual attitude about tidiness, putting things away, cleaning up the kitchen, and the like. I, on the other hand, tend to keep spaces tidy and orderly (I’m not saying that’s noble, it’s just what works for me—well, maybe I do think it’s noble, a little). When I exit from my tidy room into the shared living space and see how it looks, I always have two choices:
1. Knowing as I do that my opinion won’t change what the family does, I just observe and pass on through. I sometimes tidy up a bit, calmly and mindfully, trying to keep firmly in mind that I love this family and that’s just their way.
2. A litany of criticism marches through my brain about how bad they are to be so untidy and how can they do this when they know how much I hate it and I guess I’ll clean a little bit, putting things away more forcefully than necessary so they’ll know how I feel.
I can’t honestly say that I always go for #1; but I can say that it is the way I choose far more often than in the past. So I see that as progress. So—the action item for this precept is nothing new, it’s just to keep doing my best to just observe and not judge, be open to skillful ways I can better situations, and let the rest go.