The lessons of lashon hara

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I’ve written about the concept of lashon hara before, once in 2012 and most recently in November 2015. In light of the recent inflammatory discourse in our country – in politics, society, social media and civic issues – I think it’s time to revisit the subject.

In the article “What Is Lashon Hara?,” posted on Torah.org, it is defined as “any derogatory or damaging statement against an individual.”

The article goes on to state that, “In Hilchot Deot 7:5, Maimonides supplies a litmus test for determining whether something is or isn’t lashon hara: Anything which, if it would be publicized, would cause the subject physical or monetary damage, or would cause him anguish or fear, is lashon hara.”

The article then gives lashon hara guidelines: A statement may be lashon hara even if it’s true; a listener pressures the speaker to tell; names are left out; it’s about the speaker’s family; or the speaker includes himself in the derogatory comments.

Such statements need not be verbal – evil language can also occur in a letter, text or email.

Lashon hara is considered a very serious sin in the Jewish tradition. And, over the past few years, we have been exposed to so much of it, through bullying, sarcasm and lying, that it can certainly affect our trust and kindness level. The uncertainty and duration of COVID-19 has also contributed to this epidemic of disrespect.

To avoid this sin of evil language, when I assess difficult situations and conversations, I ask myself, “Do I want peace or conflict?”

My purpose and work in the world is to seek solutions, see the positive sides to issues, and foster hope. As I became more aware of lashon hara, which is often used in daily conversation without much consideration, I began to watch my words more carefully.

Lashon hara has motivated me to think before I say something that is hurtful or could be taken as gossip. When I look at an issue and talk with a person face to face or in writing, I aim to frame the issue in a context that does not create resentment or anger in the other person.

I try to stay on topic, respect the person, determine why the issue is problematic and understand the other person’s thinking – even if I don’t agree with it or like it. In doing so, I strive to create win-win outcomes.

This has served me well by helping me take the right action in my life.

The more aware we are of lashon hara, the more we can avoid it.

PATRICIA RASKIN, owner of Raskin Resources Productions, is a media host, coach and award-winning radio producer and business owner. She is on the board of directors of Temple Emanu-El, in Providence. She is a recipient of the Providence Business News 2020 Leaders and Achievers award.