When we blame, gossip, speak disparagingly of others, that action stems from the belief that we ourselves are less than something. What if we were investigate this less than in all our actions, all our thoughts, all our speech? . . .

A good way to explore this precept and how to use it for everyday decision making is to tryout the following exercises for a week or two. Remember, there is no timetable and no race to be won. You may find that you only get to point one. That's fine. Once you bring up the intention to explore your reactions in this way, the observer is activated and over time will become stronger.

Stop. Take inventory. Take one week to begin noticing the obvious and subtle ways in which you talk about others — overtly, surreptitiously, covertly. Keep a journal.

Look. Focus in. Choose one or two specific ways in which you talk about others and where and under what conditions you do it.

Listen. Hear your words as you speak in these particular situations. Pay close attention to the tone of your voice, noticing what happens to your voice and to your word choice when you stop simply sharing information and begin discussing faults. For example, "Harry can't be depended on. He doesn't carry through with tasks." This may be factual information; is your tone implying fact or is it finger-pointing? Is the voice snide or sarcastic? Or is it neutral, just relaying a fact?

Experience. Notice if there seems to be any emotional charge present. You might notice it makes you feel good to talk about someone else. Maybe it relieves some bodily tension by letting out some steam. Sometimes people say that they feel physically bigger, stronger. Your body sensations are a good indicator here. If you're feeling some tightness or other discomfort, there's a good chance that your comments are fueled by some negative feelings. Continue looking, listening, and experiencing in this way until you clarify the emotion. For example, you might notice there is really some jealousy fueling your comment.

Repeat. Say again the sentence about Harry, changing it to, "It's been my experience that Harry doesn't always carry through on tasks." Notice the difference that is conveyed. In the first sentence, you are freezing your perception of Harry into a static entity. This is a perception that can only be false. In the second sentence, you are just communicating behavior you have witnessed with Harry. One closes off to the continual opening and creation of a Harry. The other allows him to be as he is. And of course what we close off is not just Harry, but our openness to much more. Speaking of the faults of others is harmful not just to the other person, but also to ourselves.

Respond. It is what you do with this new statement about your experience that's important. Just because Harry hasn't followed through on tasks in the past, do you stop giving him tasks altogether? Or do you keep giving them to him with the knowledge that he is capable of change, and if given the opportunity, he could follow through? Another Zen teacher reminds us, "A so-called fault is a weak place where character can change." If we don't invest ourselves in allowing a weakness to strengthen, then we have not fully experienced the practice of this precept.

Diane Eshin Rizzetto in Waking Up to What You Do