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Right Speech: Would Sid Tell on a Cheater?

Many people look to Siddhartha Gautama as an example of someone who attained nirvana, a buddha. Each week in this column we look at what it might be like if Siddhartha was on his spiritual journey today. How would he combine Buddhism and dating? How would he handle stress in the workplace? What would Sid do? is devoted to taking an honest look at what we as meditators face in the modern world.

Each week I'll take on a new question and give some advice based on what I think Sid, a fictional Siddartha, would do. Like us, Sid is not yet a buddha, he's just someone struggling to maintain an open heart on a spiritual path while facing numerous distractions along the way. Because let's face it, you and I are Sid.

Have a question for this weekly column? E-mail it here and I'll probably get to it!
Two of my friends have started dating. Unfortunately, one of them has a hard time staying faithful and has already cheated on my other friend. He has asked me not to say anything but I'm torn - I just want to be a good friend. What would Sid do? - Torn in NYC
Anytime you are stuck between two friends is a hard situation but yours is a particularly tricky one. I believe our friend Sid would encourage you to look at this situation as a chance to practice doing as little harm as possible, to yourself and to your friends. In order to do that though, you have to find your own comfortable level of relating to them.
I believe Sid would encourage you to be as straight-forward with your friends as you can, without being hurtful. For your friend who is the cheater, you can tell him how uncomfortable you are holding this secret. You can encourage him to talk to his girlfriend and come clean. You can try to make him see that he has caused true harm, not only to his partner but also to you.
Hopefully, that sort of thing will land with him. If so, he comes clean to his Mrs. and you are in the clear. If not, it's hard to predict how the scenario will play out and what your role in it might be.
The historical Buddha never taught a sutra on what to do if your friend is cheating on your other friend. However, if you were to take the five precepts of Buddhism as your guide, you are under no real pressure to say or do anything without prompting. The fourth precept, in Pali, goes like this: musāvādā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi. In English we can translate that as "I undertake the precept to abstain from false speech."
In a strict interpretation that could just be saying "don't lie." However, it is often expounded upon to include other harmful speech such as refraining from slandering others, gossiping, and abusing others with your speech. Basically, if you are going to cause harm when you open your mouth, don't do it.
For  your sake, you could argue that you are not doing any harm by keeping your month shut. However, if your friend comes to you and asks if you think she has been cheated on, or if you think her bf has been acting suspicious, I imagine Sid would give you the nudge to say "Yes." Even in the strictest interpretation of the fourth precept you would be in the wrong to lie to your bud.

Whether it is dating, friendships, or work, it's important to be straight-forward. You don't have to meddle in other people's affairs but if given an opportunity to express yourself, the truth is often the best way to go. The important thing to consider before pulling the trigger and getting involved is whether you are creating lasting harm or if you are offering your point of view with good intentions and expect it to lead to good. Even temporary harm with a large side of good might prompt you to speak up. But, in all cases, I think Sid would recommend being straight-forward.


Have a question for this weekly column? E-mail it here and I'll probably get to it!



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