HEAR NO EVIL, SPEAK NO EVIL, READ NO EVIL
The link above will lead you to a heartbreaking story about a rash of youth suicides on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. A plethora of social ills are involved in these tragic events, including unemployment, addiction, and abuse. But the article points to another cause of despair amongst these young people – bullying and other forms of speech-related harassment, including online nastiness. Heaping this pain, which most of us have experienced, on top of so many other issues, could just be the proverbial “straw” which crushes the spirit of these young people.
Here are a few points to ponder concerning harmful speech:
· If a story about another person is true but negative or hurtful is it OK to share?
· If the story is both true and publicly known is it acceptable to share?
· What, according to Jewish tradition, is the worst form of tale bearing?
· Is listening to or reading hurtful speech as bad as spreading it?
Lashon hara is a Hebrew term meaning “evil tongue” (lashon = tongue; hara = evil). It refers to harmful speech about another person. Even those who are familiar with the concept of lashon hara may not know that it specifically pertains to truth told with harmful intent. Lashon hara is a serious sin in the Jewish tradition. The Torah says that Miriam, the prophetess and sister of Moses, was stricken with a skin disease when she spoke ill of Moses to their brother Aaron. And there are many other admonitions against this sin in the Torah, the Talmud, and other Jewish teachings.
By contrast, hotzaat shem ra ("spreading a bad name”) refers to lies spread about another, and is an even more serious sin than lashon hara. The Jewish teachings are hard on gossip and gossips, generally. And the one who listens to gossip is considered equally guilty, or even more so. In a sense, if we refuse to listen to hurtful speech, we protect the one spoken about, as well as preventing the gossiper from sinning.
But in the world of the past and the world today, the damage done to lives by hurtful speech is enormous.
Perhaps a little self-examination is in order. When was the last time you spoke ill of someone? Listened to gossip? Read a scandalous posting online? Or even more unthinkable, posted something unkind?
We can all do a better job of monitoring speech, or of not reading unpleasant postings about others online. I know that I can. But what can we do when someone begins sharing gossip with us? It can be awkward. At times I have said, “It would be better to take that up with (the person being talked about)”, or simply said, “I don’t care to hear that.” Or you can just smile and walk away. Yes, the gossiper might be offended, but in refusing you to listen you are doing an act of great kindness, and contributing to a kinder, gentler world!