Evil Tongue and Living in Negativity
Back in the day, I had a “frenemy” who, as it turned out, was pretty hell-bent on taking me down. This person really did what they could to hurt me. I was deeply upset, I was angry, I was all of those things you feel when you find out that someone you thought you liked was venomous and dangerous. I restrained myself from fighting back. I tried to take the high road. But one day I heard that something unfortunate and humiliating had happened to this person. And my reaction was deep relief and…happiness. There went the high road. So, why does it feel so good to hear something bad about someone you don’t like? Or someone you DO like? Or someone you don’t KNOW? I once asked the editor of a tabloid newspaper why all of the stories about a famous British couple had a negative bent. He said that when the headline was positive, the paper didn’t sell. Why is that? What’s wrong with us? I asked some sages to shed a little light.
Here’s to washing our mouths out with soap..
I’m curious about the spiritual concept of “evil tongue” (speaking evil of others) and its pervasiveness in our culture. Why do people become energized when they say or read something negative about someone else? What does it say about where that person is? What are the consequences of perpetuating negativity or feeling schadenfreude?
Hmmmmm…I wish I could say that all this trafficking in negativity was bad for your health, but I can’t honestly substantiate this. Based on my own fairly limited sampling, it seems as if some of the most maliciously evil-tongued folks live on to a ripe old age (but then, they always said vinegar was a good preservative!!). That legendary twentieth-century spiritual teacher G.I. Gurdjieff would merely cluck his tongue and mutter, “Misuse of the sexual center”—and it does indeed seem true that negativity can become a kind of aphrodisiac. You can actually get high on it.
“The real damage done by “evil tongue” is that living in negativity is like living in the basement of your home, unaware that the view gets progressively better as you climb the stairs.”
All that being said, however, the real damage done by “evil tongue” is that living in negativity is like living in the basement of your home, unaware that the view gets progressively better as you climb the stairs. “Evil tongue” both reflects and maintains a very low level of being, far short of what we humans are capable of and what actually feeds our souls. Another wise modern teacher, Maurice Nicoll, puts it this way: “As your being increases, your receptivity to higher meaning increases; as your being decreases, the old meanings return.” “Receptivity to higher meaning” means your capacity to experience joy, goodness, coherence and ultimately, divine compassion; it allows you to live in a world in which you can actually personally experience that “all things work together for good.” To do this requires a fairly high level of being. The more you are dominated by negativity, the more you will experience the world as threatening, isolated, competitive, harsh and even meaningless. And the more you lash out at others to shore up your fragile sense of identity, the more firmly you chain yourself to the bottom of the staircase. Your level of being dictates the reality you perceive, not the other way around.
“The active practice of lovingkindness is not a Pollyanna-ish evasion of reality; it is the surest and most time-tested way of accessing that alternate—and higher—reality: like moving up to the penthouse of your being rather than hanging out in the basement.”
Thus, spiritual teachers in all the great traditions have unanimously insisted that if we want to know the good, the true and the beautiful as active energies in our lives, we need to stop trafficking in negativity (gossip, slander, and evil tongue at the top of all lists). The active practice of lovingkindness is not a Pollyanna-ish evasion of reality; it is the surest and most time-tested way of accessing that alternate—and higher—reality: like moving up to the penthouse of your being rather than hanging out in the basement.
Yes, evil tongue may be a good pickling agent, but lovingkindness, consistently practiced, gradually sculpts people whose faces shine with gentleness, serenity, and delight (just think of His Holiness the Dalai Lama). It’s the most ancient and universal beauty secret in this world.
– Cynthia Bourgeault is an Episcopal priest, writer and retreat leader. She is founding director of the Aspen Wisdom School in Colorado and principal visiting teacher for the Contemplative Society in Victoria, BC, Canada.