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I've been reading through the newest version of the code of conduct of the company I work for, and I've been weighing each rule against my Buddhist ethics, and it has brought up some interesting questions for me.

One thing the code of conduct says is that if one witnesses something improper, and does not report it, that constitutes a violation. I think, for most serious offenses this is in line with the Buddha's teachings (for example, sexual harassment, violence, etc). But for certain other offenses, it's not very clear to me whether reporting them would be considered divisive speech, i.e. wrong speech.

The Buddha defines unskillful verbal action, in part, thusly:

What he has heard here he tells there to break those people apart from these people here. What he has heard there he tells here to break these people apart from those people there. Thus breaking apart those who are united and stirring up strife between those who have broken apart, he loves factionalism, delights in factionalism, enjoys factionalism, speaks things that create factionalism.

AN 10:165

So, two questions pertaining to two very concrete examples:

  1. Suppose one witnesses corruption. If one reports it to the police, is that considered divisive speech? Could it be said that one is setting up the police against the perpetrator?
  2. Suppose someone confides in one about a relationship in the workplace (not disallowed by the code of conduct, unless it goes unreported). Could it be considered divisive speech if one reports the relationship to the company's ethics body?
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Apparently, according to the commentary on rule number 3 of the Pācittiya section of the Pāṭimokkha, one of the defining characteristics of divisive speech is that one has to have the intention of either gaining favor with another party, or causing the disgrace of another. Whereas if one is acting with the genuine intention of putting an end to harm, or to have someone help the other person see the error of their ways, it is not considered divisive speech.

More discussion can be found here.

So, some possible answers might be:

  1. If one does not develop ill will toward the perpetrator of the act of corruption, and one is genuinely interested in preventing or stopping harm, one can report the act to the police and it would not be considered divisive speech. Although the severity of the criminal consequences here raise more interesting questions in this case.
  2. If, by not reporting the workplace relationship, harm would befall the witness or the people involved in the relationship once the relationship is discovered; and, additionally, one does not have the desire to shame the people involved; then one can report the relationship to the ethics body of the company without being considered divisive speech. Since in this specific case, the code of conduct does not forbid relationships, but only unreported ones, no additional harm would come from the report.
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  • Very good answer (and question) +1.
    – user19910
    Apr 14 at 10:37

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