Speaking of Tongues, or, Lashon Hora is Not a Dance – Part Three

August 29, 2018

This is the third and last of our current postings on what Jewish speech ethics have to say about our current political and social media communications. But it is one thing to point out problems, and quite another to solve them.

While I won't claim to be providing solutions to the problems we have been looking at together, I am presenting here some suggestions about how all of us might address them, and at the very least reduce the toxic talk-pollution of our lives.

. It is a time to insist to ourselves, and to insist with our friends and communities that we heed the words of James in his letter (1:22) – “Don’t deceive yourselves by only hearing what the Word says, but do it!”

So here are just five steps that we can take to “clean up our act” moving from evil speech to tasteful talk.

1.     Commit to action, that is, commit to implementing incremental changes in behavior. Read wise books on this subject that are pitched to your interest level and stylistic preferences. You will be greatly helped by heeding the council of gifted spiritual teachers like Mark Kinzer in his Taming the Tongue, Joseph Telushkin in Words that Hurt, Words That Heal, the works of the Chofetz Chaim, and also a recent and detailed book from a religious Jewish perspective, False Facts and True Rumors: Lashon HaRa in Contemporary Culture by Daniel Z. Feldman.[1]

2.     Meditate on core texts – In reading the Bible and even in reading books about lashon hora you will come across texts that you should memorize and chew on throughout the day—texts that moor you to the will of God as it concerns holy speech.

Here are some examples from Scripture:

  • May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be acceptable in your presence, ADONAI, my Rock and Redeemer (Ps 19:14)
  • Set a guard, Adonai, over my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips (Psalm 141:3).
  •  James 3:10-12 - 10 Out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing! Brothers, it isn’t right for things to be this way. 11 A spring doesn’t send both fresh and bitter water from the same opening, does it? 12 Can a fig tree yield olives, my brothers? or a grapevine, figs? Neither does salt water produce fresh..

3.     Partner with others – In forming new habits, it is always a good idea to make oneself accountable. So partner with others in your battle against lashon hora. Both you and your friend, or perhaps your friends plural, will benefit from your making yourself accountable in the area of purifying your speech. Perhaps you can all agree to read the same book, either together, hevruta-style, or individually, while agreeing to discuss it each week. Form an accountability relationship with one or more friends, and you can ask each other how you are doing. You can ask each other to privately comment on each other’s social behavior as it relates to lashon hora.

4.     Choose an area for improvement each week, and keep an accountability diary at the end of each day, monitoring how you did with that practice.

It will really be a simple thing, but very powerful, for you to intentionally plan for what area of improvement you will be pursuing each week, and within that, each day. What kind of wicked speech are you looking to uproot? What habits of good speech are you looking to instill? Be careful to not bite off too much at this stage. Force yourself to think small. Small gains, consistently pursued, are extremely transformational and stable. Making incremental improvement and not beathing yourself up for slow progress or “backsliding”  is the way things should be done.

And in that diary at the end of the day you can reflect on how well you did, what you learned, and you can jot downd needed areas of improvement. Go easy on yourself, don’t beat yourself up. Settle for slight improvements, and each time one is made, celebrate it. Over time, keeping such a diary will be transformational.

You cannot and will not change everything about your speech habits in one week, one month, or even one year. Old habits die hard, and sometimes awareness takes a long time to come out of hiding.  For this reason, simply becoming conscious of how you and your friends talk about one another or others is hard work and any progress will be a major accomplishment. To foster change, we must embrace a spirit of gradualism. What we need are incremental changes with a cumulative impact

Therefore, it is wise and helpful, even necessary, to choose one area of progress for a week, or two, or three, however many it takes to make significant progress in that area. Then, having made that progress, shift to another area for progress, and similarly look for signs of positive change and established progress before moving on to another area for change.

5.     Practice spiritual oral hygiene – whenever you find your thoughts or words to be unclean and impure, acknowledge these things to God, seeking his cleansing, then go on. Like King David said, in the matter under examination, “Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”


[1] Daniel Feldman, False Facts and True Rumors: Lashon Hara in Contemporary Culture, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. The RIETS Practical Halakhah Series (New Milford, CT: Maggid Books, an imprint of Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd), 2015.


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