Lashon Hara: Why we don't just say it

"Lashon harah" – evil speech, gossip-mongering...a major no-no in Judaism. If there were an 11th commandment, this would be it. It is likened to murder – where ill-used words constitute an irresponsible destruction of another''s life. Clearly we refrain from speaking evil about others to protect the other person. But I would like to offer a ''Transformative Torah'' view of lashon harah as a spiritual practice that benefits not just the other person, but that also benefits you.
One of the allures of lashon harah is that it is a convenient distraction from having to look at myself. For most often, gossip is a projection or displacement of my own shadow onto another. Thus the implicit invitation of lashon hara is to get in touch with my own emotions...when I with-hold from evil speech about another, I''m able to get a hold on myself.
I recently had a female client intensely angry about a man in our (religious) community who had been sleeping with women, several of whom were her friends. She passionately layed out plans to leverage a communal campaign to stop him and wanted me to join in the effort. Instead - I simply reflected back to her her extreme emotions and asked why she thought she might be so triggered by this issue in particular. After a week of sitting with her feelings instead of acting upon them, she did the amazing work of what I call “tracing down the trigger.”
She looked into herself and discovered that she was so intensely angry because she herself had a long past of not controlling her sexual drives. She had worked hard to control her sexual impulses and was angry that others were not doing the same. She feared that she too might loose the self-control she had worked so hard to build. Suddenly instead of burning with anger, she was overcome with compassion for the man as well as for the women involved with him. From that place of self-knowledge & compassion she was then able to take practical steps of engaging the problem. She expressed her concerns directly to her friends and even to the man himself. In the end, this approach was a lot more productive and compassionate than her original plan of attack. She walked away from the situation feeling empowered and empowering, helpful and caring...with none of the guilt and tension that an "attack" would have generated.
In the ''Transformative Torah'' view, lashon harah can be seen as not just guarding your tongue lest you speak about someone else, but as a practice for heightening self-awareness and doing the self-growth work that will enable you to become more compassionate, enlightened and effective.
So, next time you feel a desire to speak ill of someone else, stop, take a moment to ''trace down your trigger.'' What emotions are coming up and what do they point to? Does the situation perhaps remind you of something in yourself? The Torah''s laws around lashon harah thankfully stop us from hurting others, but the invitation of ''transformative torah'' is to use the idea of lashon harah not just to refrain from harming another, but to gain awareness of act that will benefit everyone.
(Please note, this is the first piece in a series of "Mental Health Minutes" that I will be offering in connection with the Jerusalem Center for Transfomative Torah & Therapy. Please contact me if you are interested in setting up private psychotherapy sessions via phone, Skype or here in person in Jerusalem. Thank you for reading!)