Shemiras haLoshon: The ongoing importance of guarding one’s tongue: Part III

We engage in loshon hara. We harm ourselves by doing so. We need to return to a better place regarding this behavior of ours. Fortunately, there exist accessible means for us to improve this middah. These means include: not participating in loshon hara, not believing any loshon hara we might unfortunately read or hear, and engaging, regularly, in Torah talk.


Per the strategy of not participating in loshon hara, beyond not uttering or writing such ill-fated sentiments, when exposed to others’ utterances of the same, we can: change the subject, stuff our ears, or walk away from such talk. First, refraining from referring poorly to other folks solves a lot of problems. Second, when we are exposed to such lapses in judgment, we can change the subject (albeit, we have to be careful not to embarrass a speaker, since that act, itself, is ethically problematic). Third, we can wedge our lobes into our ears so as not to actually, physically, hear any of the low thoughts being expressed. Finally, we can pick ourselves up and walk away.


Per the first item, there is fleeting social recognition for persons who bring “juicy” information to conversations. In balance, though, there are as well, long lasting, cosmic consequences for behaving in that way. Essentially, it’s better to shut up than to be taken to task later.


Per the second item, individuals who like burnished “news” about associates are often the sort who can be distracted, fairly easily, by other shiny things. There’s merit in refocusing a rotting piece of dialogue toward some frivolous, immaterial topic. Additionally, it’s fairly easy, in general, to redirect the attention of superficial thinkers.


Sometimes, though, folks are so invested in just how superior they feel when expressing or witnessing loshon hara that it’s difficult to draw them away from such bad topics. Such occasions are times when it’s advisable to employ physical barriers to listening.


A snood, wig, hat, set of ear muffs, or other accessory, pulled tightly down over the sides of one’s head or the movement to shimmy up to an overworking heater or air conditioner can sometimes help literally block out the sound of bad words. Other times, one can surreptitiously (again, it’s important not to embarrass other folks, i.e. not to substitute one bad choice, listening to gossip, with another, public humiliation) stuff one’s fingers, ear lobes, or what-have-you into one’s ear canals. It remains far better to seem “one off” to peers that to be judged as having fallen from “the road” by heaven.


Sometimes, none of the above works. In those cases, one must not slide toward noisy appliances, but entirely walk away. It is better to become unpopular for leaving an Earthly conversation than to be “unpopular” for eternity.


Another repair, beyond distancing one’s self from loshon hara, is disbelieving loshon hara.  Even if, has v’shalom, one has already heard loshon hara, it is possible not to believe it.


Rabbi Bezalel Borstein posits that we can assume, when we hear poor reports of another person: that there could be some justification for a person’s alleged “wrongful” actions, that the person rendering the telling could be mistaken in explaining what he or she saw, that the person rendering the telling could have left out some crucial parts of the tale, and that the story, as a whole, could be exaggerated.” While it takes a little effort to try to reframe information according to these suggestions, energy employed thusly is more than worthwhile in that the consequences of such an expenditure can result in our being free of the averah of loshon hara and can result in our being positioned to urge others to rethink nasty reports.


Finally, beyond not participating in loshon hara and beyond not believing any loshon hara which we did not escape, we can more positively impact human communications by adding more good to the world. Specifically, we can engage in Torah talk. Whereas each and every ill-advised set of words must be amended and can not be compensated for, it is also the case that acts, which bring light, help to dispel darkness, including the darkness of loshon hara.


In Ruach Chiam, Rav Chiam Volozhiner’s commentary on Pirkei Avos, Rav Volozhiner points out that “If two people sit together and there are no words of Torah between them [theirs] is a session of scoffers.” In other words, one way to stay fallen down is to fail to stand up. Torah talk can’t “balance” our bad choices, but it can create an atmosphere in which such choices are less likely to bloom and in which the problems created by such choices are more likely to be addressed.


Dvrai Torah can elevate our interactions, in general. Such words can help us move away from the habit of loshon hara, in particular.


Avoiding loshon hara, disbelieving loshon hara and creating a communication environment in which loshon hara is unlikely to thrive, all are means accessible to us for combating this horrible human tendency. As a people infused with integrity and honor, it behooves us to employ these tools to better our lives.