Do you ever argue about religion thinking you’ll convince the other person that you’re right? How often do you change their beliefs? Buddhists call this “unskilled speech.” It doesn’t work. Heated discussions rarely change anyone’s mind. They just arouse angry emotions.
John Cobb, a Christian advocate of interfaith dialogue advises us to avoid religious topics unless our minds are open to new ideas and we want to understand the views of others. Discussions of spirituality are fine when they don’t get us worked up—when we can listen to others with a receptive, curious mind. They cause ill feelings when our intention is to convert others to our way of thinking.
This principle extends to other cherished beliefs, too. My triggers for debate are the sport of hunting, the “right to life” movement, and violence in the media. The Buddhists refer to the triggers that hook us as “shenpa.” Shenpa turns us from thoughtful, reasonable people into emotional, angry ones. Since calmness is usually out of my reach when shenpa strikes, my best move is to divert the conversation politely before I get caught up in the desire to win.
According to Buddhist principles—clinging to people, material possessions, and even long-held beliefs causes us to suffer in the long run. It’s easy to build an identity around these things. The thought of losing them frightens us, so we defend them at all costs, sometimes leading us to violence.
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