Report From PIA – November 1
Today a simple walk with The Dog led to thinking about a state ban on the sale of common landscape plants, the Buddhist Principle of Right Speech, and the phrase “it seemed like a good idea at the time”. Let me explain.
As of 2009, there are several plants that are not to be sold in the state of Massachusetts, among them, Euonymus alatus, or burning bush. This shrub has been a favorite among home landscapers for years because it’s easy to grow and has brilliant red fall color.
When I tell my consultation clients and radio audience that burning bush is now a banned-in-Boston and all of Massachusetts plant, their first response is to ask why. “Because it self-seeds so prolifically that it’s now sprouting up in the wild, and choking out native plants,” I’ll answer. Then I go on to explain that the wildlife that depends on those choked-out natives, will suffer or disappear.
Their next response is often to say, “But people have already planted them. Isn’t this a case of closing the door after the horse in out of the barn?”
As I walked The Dog today, I saw dozens of tiny burning bush on the edge of the woods. This idiom about locking the barn door when the horse has already left came to mind, and that reminded me of the Buddhist Principle of Right Speech.
Right speech is one of the guidelines for ethical conduct in Buddhism’s eightfold path. It acknowledges that words have the power to make friends or enemies, and create war or peace. Right speech means not using words in ways that are wounding, and to refrain from empty chatter about others.
Now, I’m not a Buddhist, but I see the wisdom in the eightfold path’s guidelines. There are more occasions than I wish to remember when my words were hurtful to other people, and I can gossip with the best of them. Those remarks all seemed like a good idea at the time…
Once unkind words are out, it’s pretty difficult to undo the damage. Trying to repair the destruction after a cutting remark is a bit like locking the barn door once the horse has bolted. And yet an effort toward reparations is better than letting the comment or gossip stand. The horse might be out, but that just means it’s time to run after it, and take the necessary steps to lead it back to shelter.
An apology may not remove insensitive words, but it’s a start at making amends. Acknowledging that there is an ideal to strive for, and I have just failed to reach it, puts me closer to fixing the problem. As I attempt to repair the damage, I can think about how not to repeat the same mistake in the future, taking me one tiny step down the path toward right speech.
And so it is with trying to deal with invasive plants. Yes, we have already filled many yards and gardens with burning bush and the other banned-in-Boston plants. Yes, these plants seemed like a good idea many years ago, but now we know better. If we don’t attempt to remedy the situation, we’re not only sacrificing our environment and causing future damage, but we’re also saying that after seeing that we’ve made a mistake, we have no power for healing and transformation.
We do have that power. We can restore our wild places, and repair a habit of speaking hurtful words. Just because it seemed like a good idea at the time, doesn’t mean we need to continue with damaging behaviors.