Regina Brett writes in The Plain Dealer of Cleveland:
Practice restraint of tongue and pen.
Before you say anything about someone, ask yourself three questions:
Is it kind?
Is it true?
Is it necessary?
The answer to all three would make for a quiet conversation for most people — myself included.
Awhile back there was a national public-service campaign to stamp out gossip. A local rabbi created the “Words Can Heal” campaign to urge people to avoid loshon hora, a Hebrew phrase for “negative speech.” Rabbi Chaim Feld calls gossip the number one pastime in America. He wants to put an end to verbal violence.
The rabbi defined loshon hora as “any form of speech (gossip included) that might cause damage such as mental anguish, financial loss, physical pain, tarnished reputation, or the lowering of someone’s esteem in others’ eyes.”
His efforts caught on fast. Bumper stickers came out with the words PUT THE BRAKES ON LOSHON HORA. One day at a coffee shop a woman began to criticize someone who wasn’t present. The man across from her held up his hands to stop her and said, “We shouldn’t be talking about her. She isn’t here to defend herself.”
The woman objected: “But it’s true.”
The man shook his head: “It still isn’t right.”
She continued, so the man shook his head and turned his chair away from her. Good move.
Why not raise your standards? Feld’s book “Words Can Heal” [download the PDF] offers these tips:
When it comes to offensive jokes, don’t repeat them and try not to laugh at them. When you get the urge to gossip, bite your tongue, change the subject, or walk away. When you’re joking around, ask yourself at whose expense it is. Don’t repeat anything you wouldn’t sign your name to.
And if those don’t stop you, this Spanish proverb should: “Whoever gossips to you will gossip about you.” That’s a scary thought.
You never realize what a gossip you are until you try to stop. At first, you catch yourself every time you make a critical remark about people you actually like. Then, you stop yourself from spreading gossip about people you don’t like. Finally, you find yourself getting uncomfortable as soon as someone else starts to gossip about anyone.
Gossiping is a tough habit to break. Putting someone else down lifts you up — for about five seconds.
Try stopping. I once put myself on a no-gossip diet. If you think trying to quit smoking is tough, try to stop gossiping. You don’t realize how addicted you are until you try to abstain. It’s harder to lose five negative thoughts than to lose five pounds.
My dad did his best to discourage unkind words. The only phone in our house — and we had 11 children — sat right smack on his desk in the dining room. Every time he’d overhear me putting down someone, he’d scold, “That’s not very nice,” loud enough for the person on the other end of the line to hear.
Mom wasn’t any help. She would admonish, “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” Geez, Mom, if we all adhered to that philosophy, we’d all be silent as monks.
I’m not alone. Admit it. Don’t you kind of enjoy gossip? It’s one of life’s guilty pleasures.
I’m not as bad as some people who preface every comment with, “I don’t know if it’s true, but . . .” At least I have standards. The gossip has to be true before I pass it on.
That was my lowly standard until the good rabbi gave me food for thought, the kind that’s good for you but not particularly tasty. He has made me ask myself those three questions before I open my yap.
Instead of every thought spilling out of my mouth like a gum ball, there’s a momentary pause when my conscience shows up and says, Don’t go there.
The diet hasn’t been perfect, but I do feel lighter.