Dear Rachel,

I understand the perils of gossip and slander. But I still find it really hard.I always want to tell my best friendWhenever I’m upset about the way someone treats me, I always want to tell my best friend. And when I hear juicy gossip about someone we both know well, I want to tell her that, too. Intellectually, I understand the need to keep mum, but I just can’t seem to do it.

Hopeless


Dear En Guarde,

Guarding our speech is indeed an important topic, and I commend you for working on this.

If your best friend gave you a lovely antique tea set for your birthday and you used it for storing fertilizer for your garden, how do you think she’d feel?

G‑d gave us the power of speech to use for prayer, for learning Torah and for There are better ways to do thisencouraging others with kind words. Gossip, slander and malicious talk are akin to using a beautiful teapot to store fertilizer. Of course, it’s hard not to fall into the trap. A negative voice inside us urges us constantly to see the bad in others and speak ill of them.

The truth is, sometimes we also speak of another’s behavior from a place of self-righteousness. We think the other person’s behavior was wrong, and we want to see justice done. Sometimes, we speak from a place of striving to be good people. We see someone act inappropriately and convince ourselves (and others) that we are better people because we would never act like that. Sometimes, we gossip about someone else because we want to strengthen the bond with the person we’re with.

Obviously, there are better ways to do this. Gossip is a bad habit, and our self-righteousness isn’t always that righteous.

Just as with any other bad habit, to rid yourself of this, you need to be conscious of your behavior and work hard to change it. Here are a few ideas that might help:

  1. Pick one hour a day and commit that during that hour, you will refrain from saying anything in any way negative about anyone else. Make this hour sacrosanct. The power of that one hour will often spread to the rest of the day.
  2. Imagine how you’d feel if someone said these things about you.
  3. Surround yourself with people who don’t gossip. If they do, leave the conversation or try to change the subject.
  4. Have a reserve list of ideas for conversation. If someone starts to gossip, change the subject by pulling out one of your conversation starters.
  5. Don’t be ashamed of refraining from gossip. It’s something to be proud of, and when you reflect that pride, others will respect your commitment and join in. (If they don’t, would you really want to be around them anyway?)
  6. Negative speech comes from a bad eye, from looking at someone negatively. Practice looking for positive things in other people, giving them the benefit of the doubt, and feeling a bond, kinship or love towards them.

There’s a lot to talk about besides other people and many ways to strengthen a bond with someone besides mutual dislike. “As water reflects a face back to a face, so one’s heart is reflected back to him by another” (Proverbs 27:19). See good in others, and they will see good in you.

The first Temple was destroyed because of the three cardinal sins: murder, forbiddenBaseless hatred is equal to the worst sins sexual relations and idol worship. The second Temple was destroyed only because of sinat chinam, “baseless hatred.” This means that baseless hatred is equal to the worst sins. We are still awaiting the redemption, and the path to that is by loving our fellow Jews.

The source of our souls emanates from the same place. We are all part of G‑d and each other. When we remember that, we will be unable to speak or even think ill of another.

Wishing you all good things,

Rachel