BREATHE: Being a communicator in a time of abuse means being a bit Buddhist like Pete from Hartlepool


When I was training to be a journalist I met one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met. Pete was his name.

Six foot tall, wiry and ginger he was six years older than the rest of us he was filled with explosive energy.

He’d laugh but we soon  learned to be wary of his fiery temper. In the pubs around Darlington where we’d drink in he was a asset. Coming from the Headland in Hartlepool he knew how to handle himself.

One day Pete told us something surprising.

“I’m not going to the pub lads,” he announced. “I’m off home to read ‘The Tibetan Book of the Dead.'”

And he wasn’t joking.

Being a Buddhist and a Hartlepudlian who had meditated in the mid-1990s it was quite something.

It made me explore and I found in Buddhism several tenets, including:




In life, I keep coming back to these three lines.

This week, I was reminded of them again after debate in Parliament and the online reaction.

As a communicator, this faces all of us with a challenge.

Should you shout louder?

Googling this morning I came across a passage that hits the nail on the head.

Right Speech is not just a personal virtue. Modern communication technology has given us a culture that seems saturated with “wrong” speech — communication that is hateful and deceptive. This engenders disharmony, acrimony, and physical violence.

We tend to think of violent, hateful words as being less wrong than violent action. We may even think of violent words as being justified at times. But violent words, thoughts, and actions arise together and support each other. The same can be said for peaceful words, thoughts, and actions.

The historical Buddha taught that Right Speech had four parts abstain from false speech; do not tell lies or deceive. Do not slander others or speak in a way that causes disharmony or enmity. Abstain from rude, impolite, or abusive language. Do not indulge in idle talk or gossip.

Communicating through the noise and doing the right thing

If you’re working with social media you’ll have seen the measured comment from the organisation be drowned out by abuse and threat.

The temptation is to be silenced or shout louder back but where, lets face it, will that get us in the long run?

The public sector communicator needs to be measured for your organisation or cause but above all for yourself.

You need to go high when they go low.

You need to speak truth to power if needs be to steer away from the temptation to be abusive.

You need to clear your timeline of sources of abuse.

You need to make sure you – and your team – are not exposed too long to the online shit.

You really don’t have to be a practising Buddhist to take something from right thought, right speech, right deed.

The bottom line is that you just need to do the right thing in your advice and in your actions.

If you need to know how to handle online abuse and be up to speed on some really good guidance look here.

If you need to look after yourself and your team and look after their wellbeing with practical steps in this Charity Comms guidance look here.

Now breathe.

Picture credit: istock.

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