Thursday, May 31, 2012

Spite Speech

Andy Bull reports in The Guardian (Thursday, May 31 2012) about Rebecca Adlington's decision to turn away from social media during the games. Adlington, an Olympic Champion used to tough competition and daily discipline,  is choosing to turn away from social media during the Olympics because of negative body-image focused comments directed at her - spiteful speech.

Spiteful speech might seem really funny at a party, but spite speech is a way we assert our superiority over others, at their expense. Yet spiteful speech doesn't end with the remark hitting its target. Spiteful speech poisons more widely, because it warns others that they, too, may become targets. Spiteful speech is not an Olympic sport, but with the widespread practice on broadcast and social media, in diners and in chat rooms, it is a sport that is undermining the growth of healthy diverse communities. Spite speech kicks, goads, degrades, and drags us back into conformity or into silence. And since spite speech is a form of revenge, it is a tool of social control that stimulates our brains like reaching for a candy bar - short-term personal satisfaction at greater social expense.

Spite speech changes our behavior with sharp punishment (becoming a target) and reward (the power of the speaker). I know how easily I can slip into spiteful speech, losing track of my reverence for the inherent worth and dignity of each being, losing track of my relationship with all of life. Instead, I slip into a fearful and defensive place, masked behind swagger and superiority. My faith and my faithful promises call me to live differently, to live respectfully and humbly, to live with compassion and support the dignity of every being. Those are lofty goals and difficult daily practices, but they are the truer sporting way: the challenge is on me to be stronger in my faithful practices.

Tearing each other apart is a practice of bullying, destroying community by giving us only shallow forms and a narrow conformity within which we might safely live. Social media, like other ways of living in community, works best when we are living generously and compassionately, building each other up, supporting and sustaining one another in sharing our gifts for greater goodness. Every one of us has gifts to share for the good. As a person of faith, I believe society's work is to encourage each other and make ways for us to share those gifts for goodness. Some of us may be astounding Olympic champions and some of us may be fantastic bakers and some of us may teach in difficult circumstances and some of us may have a smile for every person. But all of us can share encouraging words with one another, hold bullies accountable in love and insist on my generous speech, and take responsibility for the world in which we really wish to live.


Spite speech is a choice. We can choose another way, a way of generosity, a way of love, a way of accountability and responsibility. Let's compete with that, and discover anew our spiritual athleticism.


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