A week or so ago my Rabbi sent a newsletter about “being like Thumper”.
“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
I’ve been thinking a bit about it lately, especially in light of my [forever ongoing] legal drama. I’ve been thinking about the posts I’ve written. I’ve been honest, but I haven’t always been kind. Is it really harmful to say the truth? I mean, is it so bad? Surely telling the truth, even if unkind, isn’t a bad thing? Isn’t honesty a virtue?
The What : lashon hara
While it’s not illegal to spread truthful-but-negative information, it isn’t ethically correct according to the Torah. The Hebrew phrase for one type of gossip is lashon hara, or an “evil tongue”. The action involves slander, gossip, and even – yes – spreading of truthful information that paints others in a bad light. It also involves listening in on the gossip and becoming a party to the spreading of information.
“Who is the person who desires life and loves days that he may see the
good? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good; Seek peace, and pursue it.”
So when I talk badly about an inept coworker, or an old friend, or a family member who has wronged me, I have failed to follow this mitzvah.
The Why : Reasons Why We Do It
I think we as humans gossip because it’s easy to do. As humans we are also always constantly comparing ourselves to others, and there’s no quicker way to rise up than to push someone down. It’s a short bump up the ladder, but it’s a bump nonetheless, and it’s easy. We do it because we like stories, because we have low self esteem, or maybe we want empathy.
We do it because we’re used to talking, texting, posting, blogging. We want to share, we want connection, we want empathy, and yes – we want attention.
“A passerby who becomes embroiled in a quarrel that is not his is like one who grabs a dog by its ears.” Proverbs 26:17
I know that in my case with my first husband, I deep down hope that someday there will be justice and peace. I desperately want peace, but my words haven’t always aligned with my goals. I also lean toward gossip because I am honestly intrigued with why people do what they do. Why do people choose one course of action and not another? What logic underpins bewildering people and events? I want to know, and sometimes gossip fills me in. It’s natural to enjoy it. But it’s still a “sin”.
The How : Change your Attitude
What we say has a powerful impact on all aspects of our lives. When we speak positively to and of others, we are not only thought better of, but we obtain better results. People want to be around positive people. Honest, positive individuals are perceived as more trustworthy; gossips and liars, not so much.
Not only that, but peace never surrounds gossip. Have you noticed that? I have noticed that when I’ve focused on flaws, negative situations, and gossip, I’ve been surrounded by more drama than when I focused on ideas or decisions. When I surround myself with positivity and focus on ideas and progress, the world tends to open up and improve. It’s more than a matter of perspective – I am literally changing the type of creative energy I emit when I choose the type of discussions to engage in.
It’s so easy to get caught up in drama. It’s human nature to love a good story and to want to speak of ourselves and our life in ways that make us look good. But it doesn’t do us, the listener, or the victim any good. Was anyone ultimately made any better or wiser by hearing negativity? Did the negative energy that we threw out into the universe grow something good? Probably not.
Changing your attitude and speech takes deliberate choice. It takes saying,
“I am responsible for what I say and how I react. I choose my course of action.”
Because we all choose, ultimately. We can choose if we react and how we’ll do it. We choose what words we say, how we say them, when we say them, and who we tell them to. We have the power to change our world, if only we chose to.
The When : Right Now
We can’t change our past actions, nor can we change the feathers of gossip we’ve scattered in the wind. What we can do is pick up what pieces we are able to find, make amends, and move forward.