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Judgment and gossip

October 27, 2012

Last night I was at a friend’s house, and a few of the people started talking about mutual acquaintances. One of them was particularly vocal about how he felt about different people, to the point of calling them names (and not nice ones).

At the time, I was just listening, because I did not know most of the people. For those I did, I have to admit, I also just listened. It felt wrong, but I did not say anything. This morning I realized why it bothered me, and wish I had said something to him.

Name-calling. Judging. Gossiping. It seems in human nature to talk about people, but where do you draw the line from talking and gossiping? When is it okay to judge someone, using your standards, without knowing the circumstances of that person’s life?

There is a Jewish proverb that says, “What you don’t see with your eyes, don’t witness with your mouth.” In Judaism, lashon hara, or evil tongue, refers to derogatory speech about another person. Gossiping is called  rechilut. The sin of lashon hara is a serious one in Judaism.

Some people don’t see (or don’t care) that gossip and negative speech have impact on people – after all, if the person isn’t there, then what harm does it do? They find reason to judge others, to talk about others in a harmful way, to gossip. Do they do it because they are bored? Do they do it because it makes them feel better about themselves? Do they really forget to see that we all live in glass houses, and throwing stones at others is not the best idea in the world?

I don’t know. I do know that as much as I expect it, when I know that people are gossiping about me, it still hurts. It is easy to say “I don’t care”, but I don’t like knowing that people are saying negative things about me (usually these things are also made up) and wonder what motivates them to do so. I wonder if they realize the impact not only their words have on me, but the larger impact of a broken trust because they were speaking that way about me, will have. In effect, I will never trust the person again.

I know it is not something I will ever understand. It is something in which I try to not engage, or diffuse when someone else does. I am very troubled as to how damaging it is to the person who is the target of gossip.  I have been witness to gossip and I have been a target of gossip.

Gossip has more power than people realize, and does so much damage. It humiliates people, causes mistrust, destroys friendships, exposes things that are not other peoples’ business, causes low self-esteem, and has a larger harmful impact to both the person who is the target and the one who is the talker. After all, if a person gossips TO you about someone, that means the person will also gossip ABOUT you to someone else.

Perhaps we all need to be kinder to others, and instead of gossiping about someone, try to put ourselves in that person’s shoes and wonder how s/he would feel if s/he were sitting there hearing what we said. If you say something about someone and the person is not present, is it something you would say to the person’s face?

Buddha said, “If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind.” There is a powerful lesson to be had in that statement. I just wish more people were open to learning it.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mom permalink
    October 27, 2012 5:30 pm

    Very well said.

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