The Greatest Parenting Technique That Was Never Seen On T.V.
"Wisdom is to the soul as food is to the body."
-- Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra, 1090-1167
Let me start with a disclaimer, I generally shy away from "parenting recipes" that claim to turn your children into model citizens in five simple steps or less.
I tell people all the time, parenting is not like baking a cake. It's not about just reading the ingredients, adding water and voila - perfection! There's no magic formula or pre-programmable process. You just can't make a script for being a great parent. There's no one thing you can do that changes everything.
But wouldn't it be nice if there were?
What if there were an incredibly simple technique that required no discerning mastery, no subtle judgment - just a black and white simple rule that would virtually guarantee highly successful and fulfilled children?
Well that's exactly what we have in this week's parsha: one super parenting tool coming up.
And it really is the simplest of advice to follow. With this technique it's practically "in the bag" that your children will blossom and thrive. What is it?
That is, don't.
If you and your family vigilantly practice the Jewish principle of never gossiping, you will have phenomenal children that are self-motivators, honest, hard working and always excel. And just about every ailment parents struggle with their kids today will disappear.
You see, it's not just the army, but every human being has an immense need to be the best they can be. In fact, this drive is so fierce within us, very few things can really impede us on our life journey.
Let me explain. There are two main ways to win at dieting. The hard way and the easy way.
The hard way is to control our eating, join a gym and buy lots of celery.
The easy way is to "fix" the scale.
You would be mistaken if you thought the second way was absurd. It may be stupid but it's incredibly popular. Most people engage in all kinds of self denials about all kinds of behaviors they would rather not deal with. Dieting is not spared from this delusion. For example, some people buy bigger clothes sizes to make them feel more thin.
Every goal we have in life has these two basic options.
I am sure we are all tempted to sign up when we see one of those "Be all you can be" exciting army marine ads, "The few, the proud, etc." However, there's a reason most people don't join, it's because there is an easier way to be all you can be - fix the scale.
How is this achieved?
By demeaning others we, by default, feel better about ourselves.
A kid is going to feel a lot better about failing an exam if he can persuade himself everyone did bad, or the teacher is a sadist, or other simple claims that are common tools kids use to make themselves feel better.
However, when we forbid gossip from our lips and our ears, we are left with the only way to make ourselves feel better: to do better.
There is good food and bad food. There is good talk and bad talk. Just as some things are not healthy yet taste great, so too there are some very juicy conversations we should not be listening to.
On the surface, gossip looks harmless. It appears as a victimless crime. Yet gossip is packed with empty calories, and is more dangerous than artery-hardening cholesterol!
Instinctively, we sense that gossip is wrong. It is for this reason we devise all kinds of justifications, like, "Well, it's true!" Or, "I would say it in front of him." Or, "Everybody knows about it already." We rationalize that if the person we're talking about doesn't know, what can it hurt?
Judaism however says that gossip does hurt. Not only does it injure the person spoken about, but as we have explained, it destroys the one who says it and even those who hear it.
Gossiping is demeaning. It is an attempt to bring down the people we envy in order to make ourselves feel better. As such, every time we speak badly about another, we feel less inclined to perfect and improve ourselves.
In Judaism, gossip is defined as relating negative information about another, even if it is true. ("Slander" is when it's not true.) And not only does the Torah enjoin us not to speak gossip, but even further, we are required not to listen.
A family that engages in gossip creates a real fear that any mistake will be looked at in a disparaging light. Children develop a fear of failure, knowing that their faults will be harshly examined, illuminated and even publicized in a demeaning manner. And, on top of that, they will be discussed behind their backs, with no form of defense or recourse. Closed court and no jury!
However, once you train and accustom your home to stay far from gossip, it becomes habitual and subtly forces everyone who lives this way to engage in the only conversation left - productive and fulfilling issues.
As the Chafetz Chaim said: "Before you speak against someone else, think how you would like it if someone said that same thing about you." This applies even if the information is true, and even if the one spoken about wouldn't mind.
And watch your children bloom.
* * *
BRAINSTORMING QUESTIONS TO PONDER
Question 1: What was the most harmful thing someone ever said about you?
Question 2: Do you read or watch anything that is gossip?
Question 3: What step could you make right now that would reduce gossip in your life?