Posts on the topic of "Speech"
We could all use a bit more "disengagement" from electronic media in favor of more quality personal time.
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg writes about a recent performance of the New York Philharmonic. Toward the end of Mahler's Ninth Symphony, someone's cell phone began ringing… and kept on ringing.
Conductors almost never interrupt a performance, other than for truly exceptional circumstances. But in this case, Philharmonic conductor Alan Gilbert didn't just pause the performance -- he turned toward where the sound was coming from and refused to continue with the Symphony until the individual verbally acknowledged that his phone was turned off. (The audience cheered and applauded.)
I don't know about you, but I find it hard to speak with someone who is checking email. Time and again, the quality of my one-on-one communication increases significantly when I am face-to-face and there are no electronic devices in play.
To see how this manifests in real life, check out this great short film, "Disconnect and Enjoy."
Finally, what caught my attention in this hilarious-but-true cartoon is that it's actually from 1996. Imagine how much "worse" things are now!
I never quite understood the rabbinic statement that if you speak negatively about another person (loshon hara), you acquire their transgressions. It always sounded to me like magic. How exactly does that work?
Today I went grocery shopping, and two of my sons helped take the groceries from the car into the house. I told them to be careful because there were a few bottles. One of them wasn't careful enough and a bottle broke, leaving a messy puddle of olive oil smack dab in the middle of the kitchen.
I didn't know who had done it, nor did I feel the need to know. I wasn't planning to punish anyone, but I did feel that the message of acting responsibly was something they could both benefit from hearing, irrespective of "who did it."
So I got the two boys together and said: "I'm disappointed that you weren't careful enough. This was a job that boys of your age can surely handle."
At which point one of them piped up and said, "I didn't do it."
I was shocked! In order to raise his own stature, he cast the blame on the other. I never asked who did it; that wasn’t part of the discussion.
Speech that reflects negatively on others (loshon hara) is no small mistake. The Talmud identifies it as the specific problem that caused the destruction of our Holy Temple, and which remains at the core of our 2,000-year spiritual exile.
At that moment, with the oil spilled on the kitchen floor, I understood. By speaking negatively about another person, you acquire their transgressions.
God works with us "measure-for-measure," meaning that instead of meting out "punishment," He arranges "consequences" that are commensurate with our mistaken action. In this case, one of my sons sought to implicate his brother for breaking the bottle; the reciprocal consequence is that he himself acquires that mistake.
Interestingly, this concept is codified in Jewish law: Under certain circumstances, false witnesses ("Aidim Zomemim") are dealt the very same punishment that they intended to generate with their false testimony. For example, if witnesses conspired to obligate someone to pay $1,000 that he does not owe, they must reimburse their intended victim that sum of $1,000. (Deut. 19:19)
The end of the story? I turned to my son who spoke negatively and asked him to clean up the olive oil. And he totally understood why.
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My friend Harve Linder in Atlanta shared his thoughts regarding an ill-advised op-ed piece by the publisher of the Atlanta Jewish Times. In discussing how to get the United States to stand more firmly behind its ally Israel, the publisher proposed three scenarios for Israel to protect itself:
(2) Destroy Iran's nuclear facilities "at all costs."
(3) "Give the go-ahead for U.S.-based Mossad agents to take out a president deemed unfriendly to Israel..."
In case we didn’t get it the first time, the author repeats: "Order a hit on a president in order to preserve Israel's existence."
Aside from the incitement ― which the Jewish community of Atlanta rightfully condemned in the strongest terms ― there is the issue of responsible use of power. For while each of us free to speak our mind, we must be cognizant of the ramifications of our words.
At which point has the line of “free speech” been crossed? In a crowded theatre, it’s when shouting “fire” causes a panic. In an editorial by a Jewish publisher in a Jewish newspaper, it’s when his words cast pallor upon other Jews.
In this case, those who heard about this story (and many did, thanks to the Internet), the Jews dropped a rung on the ladder of public perception. Like it or not, the reality of today's world is that when a Jew ― particularly one of authority or stature ― speaks, he is perceived as speaking on behalf of all Jews.
The publisher lost his credibility and his job. Before a person speaks, he must be aware of the consequences. When a Jewish public figure speaks, all the more so.