Fourteen Precepts in Fifteen Days
Eighth: Do not utter words that can create discord and cause the community to break. Make every effort to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.
Being Peace, by Thich Nhat Hanh
A few weeks ago, my brother went down to Gardiner, which is one of the northern entrances to Yellowstone National Park, with our friend Bill to check out a demonstration. The protesters were there to register their disagreement with the current policy of slaughtering buffalo who cross the park boundary into Montana every winter, usually in search of forage. Because Montana is certified as a “brucellosis-free” state, the cattle industry here is insistent that the Yellowstone herd, some of whom carry brucellosis, be prevented from mingling with Montana cattle. Bill was there to take photos, since that’s what he does for a living, and Patrick was just hanging out.
So as my brother is hanging out, leaning against the truck, watching the demonstrators, an older woman came up to him and screamed “F*ck you! F*ck you, assh*le! Stop the killing!” Patrick was somewhat taken aback, because as he told me later, she looked like someone’s granny, and the profanity and the hostility coming out of her mouth, both rocked him back on his heels and made him want to laugh at her. She didn’t help her cause at all, she just made them ridiculous. We’ve actually been talking about this old lady for a couple of weeks, both as we watch demos on tv, and as we watch our President and his cronies get more and more entrenched in their own bully-pulpit positions.
In his commentary on this precept, Thich Nhat Hanh says: “This precept is about reconciliation … In order to reconcile a conflict, we have to be in touch with both sides … to listen to both sides and understand.” When everyone’s shouting, no one is listening. And it’s tempting to shout. I grew up in a family of shouters, and there’s a kind of relief when you’re deep in the thick of it, having a big emotional scene, shouting and crying and so convinced that you are right and the other person is not only wrong, but unjustifiably wrong. But it doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s like the old lady screaming obscenities, the old lady who has become a symbol in our household for ridiculous anger. In that I guess she serves a certain defusing kind of purpose. At this point, if Patrick or I look at one another and say “F*ck you, assh*le” in a little-old-lady voice, it’s certain to cause one, if not both of us to start laughing. So that’s something.