SuttaCentral

On moderation and right speech


#1

In response to @Mkoll, I’ll say a few words about moderation, and invite our moderators to input if they like.

When I was first thinking about setting up this forum, I knew that moderation would be key. Discourse was specifically developed as a platform to encourage constructive dialogue, using design features learned from previous generations of forums. But there is only so much that can be done at a technical level. We need to take personal responsibility for what happens under our roof.

For several years I actively ran a blog (maybe I’ll get back to it sometime!) and I learned a lot about trolling there.

The basic lesson, I think, is that you can’t expect to change someone through the internet. There are certain basic principles of civil and rational discourse, such as the ability to distinguish between an idea and a person, the ability to remain polite and civil when disagreeing, and the recognition that our words have a genuine, human impact for which we must take responsibility. To understand these things is an outcome of personal, emotional, and spiritual development. If someone has not learned these things in their life, they will not do so on a forum.

Behind all the angry, stupid, dogmatic things you see on the web, there is suffering. It’s rare, but some people have taken the time, and shown the compassion, to learn more about this. See, for example, this superb article about the 4chan “losers” who support Trump:

This doesn’t mean that such things should be excused, as such people must still be responsible for their own choices. But to be compassionate is to understand and respond to the suffering of others, even those who are blind to the suffering they cause.

There are many people who have not had the chance I’ve had, to learn and develop in Dhamma in the midst of a supportive community. It is in such a community that you learn about the truly Buddhist virtues of kindness, of graciousness, of humility. When you’re wrong, say, “I was wrong”. When conversation is getting heated, leave it aside.

Our idea, beliefs, and attitudes are long-term structures in our minds. We don’t change these because someone thinks of a clever point on the web. We change them because we evolve and grow as people. Rational and kind dialogue plays a part in that, but only a part. Wisdom is able to recognize when differences are not going away, at least for the time being. This is why, as you may have noticed, I typically only post about small, minor matters here as far as the suttas go. These are things that can be actually discussed, even settled, in a meaningful manner, not just drift into endless proliferation.

Probably the hardest cases are what I can the “edgers”: people who know just enough to dance back and forth across the line of what is allowable. They often manage to avoid doing anything that would clearly give you a reason to ban them, but at the same time, they’re not really engaging in discussion in a way that you want to support. Often warnings are given behind the scenes, and a person might behave better for a while, before drifting back into their old habits.

Over time, I have become more prone to think it’s better to simply ban such people. It’s just not worth the effort. This is our home on the web, and if someone doesn’t treat our home with the respect and courtesy that I expect, I wouldn’t invite them back. Using our forum is a privilege, not a right, and users should earn that privilege.

To come more specifically to moderation, I knew that we should have a team of moderators. They must be independent, and make their own policies and decisions, with the support of the team. I wanted to find a team of women, specifically because of the extent of misogynistic abuse on the web. I approached a number of the contributors to the forum, who had impressed me with their care and wisdom, and thankfully some have been able to help out. Currently, @brenna, @kay, and @cara are doing this. :pray:

When issues come up, either things that they notice, or things flagged by community members, they will discuss them. @vimala, myself, and sometime @brahmali see and sometimes take part in the discussions, but it is the moderators who make decisions and take action.

The discussions are always careful, kind, and temperate, and I support the actions that they have taken. While you may be aware of some issues, remember that there are other issues that they have successfully dealt with, so you don’t notice them.

Surely we can do better than speech that is merely tolerable! Can we not aspire to speech that is wise, delightful, and loving?

And finally, here, once again, are our guidleines.


Buddhism, Women, & Gender (A Bibliography)
#2

While we’re at it, I would like to express my appreciation for the mod team and the entire SC community. Disregarding my love for a more straightforward, less courteous and a bit more healthily aggressive manner of discourse than is usual in the Anglo-Saxon cultural space (just like @dxm_dxm I come from Eastern Europe), I can definitely say that the SC forums are the most comfortable place I have ever visited on the entire Internet. We can have wildly differing opinions and we can express them without fear of ridicule or toxic ad hominem criticism, and we can still respect each other as a community of spiritual friends, worthy of respect and careful attention. Heck, discussing things here even helped me tackle my problems with the Right Speech offline - I am a pretty short-fused guy, actually, so thinking things through before I say them helped me become a better person and suffer less internally.

Thank you all, fellow Dhamma farers, and stay awesome! Special thanks to @Brenna, @Kay, and @Cara for doing their hard, tedious and nerve racking behind-the-scenes job of helping us stay awesome! :anjal:


#3

Thank you Bhante for making this thread and thank you for the transparency regarding moderation. You’ve made a lot of good points in your post and I find myself agreeing with all of them.


#4

This is an excellent point. There are causes and conditions of this kind of thing that, when studied, help us not react harshly.

I encountered a woman the other day who really had a message of blanket hatred toward men. She is a rather popular figure on the political left. You are pointing out hateful speech, but it’s worth saying that hate doesn’t have a political persuasion. I know you didn’t say that, Bhante. But, still, it’s worth pointing out. If our mission should be to root out hatred, we need to remember it comes in all shapes and sizes.

This is such an important point. This is why I think that teaching the dhamma (or something like it) in the schools would be of immense benefit to young minds. Intellectual knowledge without spiritual knowledge isn’t very good preparation for the world.


#5

Thank you, Bhante, for making this post! You express a lot of really wonderful ideas. :pray:

I’m going to keep hammering away at this idea because I think it’s important to understand that 95% of our moderating happens in private. Thus, it might not seem like we’re doing much (:sweat_smile:) but we’re pretty much in daily communication with one another; sometimes much more when everything starts to go haywire.

Just to give a little bit more background on how this works, we have a ‘Staff’ category in which all of our posts and conversations go, and this can be accessed by all of the moderators and admins. Our topics can range from discussing Right Speech infractions and guideline revisions to telling one another when we’ll be on retreat/away from the internet (I’m going monastery-ing tomorrow, see y’all on Thursday :grin:!).

Most of the decisions we make are based on whether someone is keeping Right Speech as is outlined in our guidelines. We do, however, evaluate everything that occurs as its own event and take whatever action we feel is appropriate and compassionate.

What can you do to help us out? Be awesome! Which so many of you are already doing by flagging posts and maintaining such great kindness to one another. If something is making you uncomfortable or feels like a red flag, please do let us know! We want to make this community feel as safe and respectful as possible.

With metta.


#6

It is great to know we have kind and skilled people making sure things operate within reasonable boundaries here.

I take the chance and make an open invitation for all moderators to please approach / warn / poke me whenever I end up making the mistake of feeding trolls here.

I was recently at the beach and mindlessly fed a seagull, after that many others came creating a crazy little chaos of seagulls shouting at each other in expectation of more crumbs of crackers.

This experience definitely reminded of the usual recommendation of to never feed trolls.

It is better sometimes to acknowledge that the chances of helping someone with their practice of right speech through posts in an online forum are indeed low.


#7

Ahh, memories of eating chips by the beach in Perth … :fries:


#9

I see the person discussed over here was actually banned for an insult against me. I am not familiar with what other things he did before because been banned, I can not click on the nickname to see messages.

As DKervick had said, the word “troll” is really inappropriate the use in such context. It implies the person was only meant to cause havoc, motivated by evil or selfish desires - in any case not a person with good intentions. While in reality, people who do not fit in on buddhist forums are generally good people, motivated by good intentions, that have a problem with talking too much or getting carried away sometimes and speaking too aggresive. Honestly I’ve never seen somebody with evil intentions on buddhist forums, I’ve only seen people with good intentions that have some defects.

And calling such a person a “troll” because of a defect he had yet to fix is only going to backfire. This will only rise aversion in the person and exacerbate his behaviour, confirming he has been more or less misunderstood since he knows very well that is not what he is. If we ourselves have good intentions and not selfish ones like feeling good and self-righteous about oureselves, we should show some compassion and understanding for fellow buddhist.

We should all remember it is only after living together with a person, only after spending a long time with a person not a short one, that we can judge a person well: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an04/an04.192.than.html

In my opinion, it is innapropriate to have such insults thrown at a person who is no longer here so no longer able to defend himself. At least the person in question insulted people who were able to defend themselves. I say enough knives have been twisted in his back after his leave and the moderators have made their opinion known already. So I suggest this topic be closed not to propagate further insults towards fellow buddhist who are not here, so unable to defend themselves. Or at least continue the discussion without further insults thrown at Leon74, be them direct or indirect/passive aggressive insults.


#10

Not sure why you replied specifically to me but to avoid people reading what I wrote as what I did not mean I deleted my reply to Bhante’s remark on feeding seagulls in Perth (where I currently live and he was born).

Nevertheless, please do take the advice! Don’t even consider start feeding seagulls in the land Down Under unless you are sure to have lots of food at your disposal and/or being completely alone (interestingly people tend get immensely annoyed by them)! :slight_smile:


#11

Since this topic is also about right speech, I want to say that, just like Vstakan, I accept this type of speaking used on english buddhist forums despite also been an eastern european who has never lived and probably never will live in another country, so even more unfamiliar with it than Vstakan. Not speaking like that will only make others hate you and not pay attention to what you are writing when it comes to dhamma points.

But while I agree with it and perfectly understand it, I also want to point out this “right speech” principle can easily be taken too far and we should be careful at that too. Something I found on the internet:

EDIT: The quote from the article that was seen as offensive removed. I’ll leave just the part that does not contain offensive language. The idea was to not take ourselves too seriously and become too tense after becoming a buddhist, just like it happens in other religions too. It is good to maintain a relaxed and healthy attitude towards things that happen in samsara and not become too sensible and too fragile. This will only lead to becoming tense overall and is not a healthy attitude to have because every little thing will have the power to emotionally destroy us.

If you google sterotypes about buddhist, most people complain about us been too uptight, having a holier-than-you attitude, etc. - in general pretty annoying. Same as people are annoyed by christians who have such attitudes. Or same as people who drive Toyota Prius been considered much more annoying than the average despite the fact that they consider themselves better witch makes this look counter-intuitive. In my opinion, these problems are much bigger in buddhism than in christianity because of meditation and the idea of “been advanced” or “been more advanced than you” type of thinking that is more proeminent in buddhism because of meditation witch can easily transform into a “meditation competition”. While in christianity, there are such attitudes but there is no “prayer competition” so these tendencies do not develop so much. Nobody was born perfect so it’s good to keep an open mind about what defects we might have and try to improve them.

When various authentic teachers talk about “practicing like your hair is on fire”, or as my teacher told me in retreat “practice like you are fighting for your very life”, they mean this in the sense of practicing consistently and genuinely, NOT becoming uptight, humourless and puritanical.


#12

If you are referring to Leon74, he was not banned but chose to no longer participate in this forum.

No one in this topic is throwing insults, as far as I can see, nor is our discussion on moderation and trolls aimed at any one person in particular. It is beneficial to have these conversations from time to time, so that we may all discuss the best ways we can improve our dialogue with one another.


#13

Sorry, I did not know that.

nor is our discussion on moderation and trolls aimed at any one person in particular.

It is a discussion about trolling on this forum. So I supposed it is not aimed at persons from another forum.

It is beneficial to have these conversations from time to time, so that we may all discuss the best ways we can improve our dialogue with one another.

I agree. That is why I shared my opinion too. It’s always good to have varied opinions whether we agree/partially agree/disagree with them or not. I have not issued judgements about how speaking on this forum should go since I am new here and honestly I don’t know what the perfect amount of politeness should be on a non-romanian forum. It is not my element. I’ve never lived in an english country and probably I will never move from this one in my life. I just wanted to draw attention at the problems of the other extreme of right speech and at indirectly insulting people who are not here to defend, despite not calling their name. I’ve not issued an opinion on the forum general speaking, I just rised some points to think about.

I have trust in B.Sujato to know how the general attitude should be since he is Australian and I noticed that, like other australians, he is not exactly the typical englishman in his speech. I am sure he knows better how the general attitude should be in this place. I’m not one of those idealist, trying to change english way of speeking because It is different than my own. I am a pragmatic person and I understand that when there is a majority in a place, the minority has to go along not impose their way. And also, I consider this place very liberal, allowing all ideas and criticism of diferent interpretations of buddhism to be voiced (something unusual for a buddhist forum) so the problem of people speaking too softly does not disturb me at all.


#14

@Gabriel_L
Awww, I bet that first hungy seagul was appreciative though (well, maybe until the other seaguls showed up that is) :wink: Kind of like ravens & crows where I live.


#15

I am not sure if I agree with this, Bhante. I think it is important that sensible and experienced voices speak out on the big issues, even on this forum. It is fine that you want to discuss some of the lesser problems of translation, the airing of which will not engender “endless proliferation”, as you put it. But it is the larger issues that will make or break Buddhism. And some sort of leadership from experienced people with integrity, especially monastics, is crucial.

Even if stating your opinion on such issues may be the source of lengthy debate, you don’t have to engage with everyone. Sometimes just giving an opinion piece, a kind of editorial, will be enough to at least guide the debate and serve as a seed for reflection for many. You deservedly have a degree of respect among many Buddhists and would-be Buddhists, and it is important that you use that position to promote a proper understanding of the EBTs. If you are not going to do it, who is?


When a butterfly flaps its wings
#16

Well, thanks for the vote of confidence. I know what you mean, and I really have no clear answer.

Now, I am not someone who likes to overestimate his own importance in the scheme of things. I generally think the world will get along fine without me. Still, I admit that some things can’t be ignored. For example, since I have been happily ensconced on my island paradise enjoying the word of the Buddha, the world has descended into some very dark places. Now, I’m not trying to suggest that the rise of fascism in the US is directly caused by the absence of my wisdom! Merely pointing out the correlation. Who knows? There’s got to be something to it, right? :thinking:

Anyway, as you know me well, you will appreciate the superhuman restraint I’ve shown in not saying anything about all this. My only justification, really, is that if I don’t focus, I’ll never get this work done. Right or wrong, that’s the only way I can see it happening.

In terms of the big Dhamma issues, I’ve discussed a lot of these in my books, talks, and so on, and I don’t know if I have anything much to add. I do express my thoughts from time to time here, but I don’t get into lengthy discussions. If it’s of any solace, I do give some thought from time to time to what I will do when this is finished, and what is the best way to use what little wisdom I have. I’m sure something will happen!


#17

Adding new stuff is fine, but repeating is just as important. Look at the suttas. They are sometimes surprisingly repetitive, yet they also vary slightly, which is actually what makes them interesting. Saying the same thing from different angles is often very useful.

You know, in the end I think repeating the big issues is more important than talking about the small things.


#18

I guess that’s the difference between a researcher and a communicator. Sometimes I feel like I’m temperamentally a researcher, and get pressed into being a communicator. Oh well, there are worse problems in life, I guess.


#19

What a great discussion by our two Bhikkhu venerables, above. I really enjoyed this exchange.

It’s no secret ( at least to me) that despite the Dhamma being in the world for over 2500 years, I and probably some here, can count on the fingers of one hand the monastics that we trust with this Dhamma in these times, and to help us embrace and understand it correctly. Interestingly, three of these monastics, Ajahns Brahm, Sujato, and Brahmali, in my view have done more to advance the Dhamma and Vinaya in a scholarly, compelling, and often warm and generous way than scores of others. Why Australia is the fountainhead for this brilliant re-emergence of the Dhamma and Vinya, I will never know; perhaps it is the kammic counterbalance for giving the world Vegemite? :slight_smile:

Perhaps one day Sutta Central will draw people from all walks of life to see dynamic perspectives from our masterful ajahns. Like the esteemed and highly ethical journalist Bill Moyers in the USA, from time to time certain people emerge from a field that could, if they wished, defer from engaging in world issues. Bill Moyers could have chosen to act as so many of his colleagues have, out of fear of offending, or laziness, or fatigue, and just checked out of the field of compelling journalism and moved on. But he is just one of those people that every time he offers a commentary, it is always important, relevant and well worth listening to. He is that voice in a sea of irrelevance that really makes a difference in how the public sees politics, society, and the world. We need voices like his in unsteady times.

Sutta Central seems to me a meisterwerk that should grow and develop at its own organic pace, and develop in a way and on a timeline that is comfortable and pleasing to Bhante Sujato. Perhaps in those comfortable spaces between Sutta translations, teaching/correcting us, and organizing code, we could see some of the ‘journalism’ Ajahn Brahmali encouraged. Moyers only comments when he has something important to say; he’s not on a schedule. He’s earned the right to comment when he chooses to and when the moment seems right. But, when he does speak, it is always an imperative to listen.


#20

and i was thinking to myself “what an exemplary display of the virtue of equanimity from venerable Sujato” :worried:

but yeah, concentration is very useful, cuts off all the chaff which bombards the 5 senses and the mind


#21

Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu! we really appreciate Ajahn Brahmali comments & suggestions.

Bhante, Ajahn, we do need your guidance, people nowadays need to hear more words of wisdom than ever before. It’s not easy to find a respectable & trustworthy guidance these days. Therefore i think input from Bhante & Ajahn is crucial .[quote=“brahmali, post:15, topic:4474”]
Sometimes just giving an opinion piece, a kind of editorial, will be enough to at least guide the debate and serve as a seed for reflection for many.
[/quote]

:anjal: