It may not seem like it, but gossiping and speaking badly about others is one of the ugliest things a person could do. In the times of the Bible this was obvious, because when someone would do it he or she would break out in an awful, ugly skin disease - as this week's Torah portion describes. Today we have to be extra careful to refrain from negative, ugly speech. Gossiping isn't good for the speaker, listener, or for the one spoken about.
In our story, some kids discover how ugly, ugly speech really is.
THE GOOD - THE BAD - AND THE UGLY
Bus rides can be boring. After playing license-plate rummy, count-the-trucks and all the other goofy 'ride games' they knew, Amy and her sister Ann - on the way to visit their out-of-town grandma on her birthday - were plenty bored. That is, until a couple of passengers across the aisle caught their attention.
It was two old ladies, chatting away a-mile-a-minute in some foreign language. Ann tapped Amy on the shoulder and gave her one of those 'check this out' looks. Her sister got the hint and the two of them fixed their eyes on what promised to be good entertainment for the rest of the trip - or until the old ladies got off, whichever came first.
"Hey, what in the world do you think they're talking about so fast?" whispered Ann, with a mischievous grin.
"Probably they don't even know themselves." Amy shot back, a little louder than she'd planned.
"Shhh!" winced Ann. "They'll hear us."
Her sister waved her off. "Genius - if they knew English, don't you think they'd be speaking normally instead of jabbering away in that mumbo-jumbo?"
The two of them broke out in giggles and the rest of the trip flew by as the two girls had a great time entertaining themselves by commenting on how ugly the old ladies were - of course, making sure each time to turn their eyes away from the ladies, who would have no idea the joke was on them.
"Check out the one on the right's hairstyle - she looks just like a French Poodle," snickered Ann.
"Hey, don't insult dogs!" quipped Amy. "At least Poodles don't dress in those ugly outfits that look like nineteenth century used-clothing store rejects!"
As they got to the bus stop near their grandma's house, the sisters, a little disappointed that the 'show' was over, jumped out of their seats. They were giggling too hard to notice that the ladies across the aisle were slowly getting up too and the girls were already off the bus and much too far away to notice in what language the ladies thanked the bus driver.
"Hi Grandma - we're here!" shouted an excited Amy.
"Happy birthday to you!" Ann sing-songed right behind.
"So nice to see you!" their grandmother smiled warmly. "Come on in. I'm so happy you could come." She led them to a pretty little table where she had set up some of her patented yummy cookies and some nice cold drinks.
The doorbell rang.
"Oh, you girls enjoy yourselves," Grandma said. "I'll get the door. I invited two of my dearest friends to join us," she smiled. "I have to show off my beautiful, sweet grandchildren, you know."
As the girls were digging in, they half-listened to their grandma greet the guests in the foyer.
"How was you trip, dears?" she asked.
"Well, thankfully the bus wasn't crowded, I just wish young people today spoke a bit more respectfully," sighed one of the guests, with pain in her voice.
"I know what you mean," said the girls' grandmother. "Come in, it's all over now. Anyway, you'll meet my beautiful granddaughters."
The three ladies came into the living room as Ann and Amy put on their best 'greet-the-guests' smiles - which quickly melted into looks of embarrassed shock. Grandma's best friends - speaking perfect English - were the two ladies from the bus! They had understood all the terrible things they'd said about them!!!
The girls bounced on the edge of their seats, nervously waiting for the ladies to spill the beans and tell their grandma how awful they'd acted. Ann and Amy couldn't help noticing that the ladies wouldn't look them in the eyes and how quickly they would change the subject whenever Grandma started to brag about 'her beautiful, polite granddaughters.' There was no question they'd recognized them, but amazingly the whole party passed and they didn't say a word about what happened.
As everyone got up to leave and Grandma got up to get the ladies' sweaters, the two girls looked at the ladies, who were now staring right at them.
"Um, we're really sorry," muttered Ann.
"Yeah ... and thanks for not telling Grandma," Amy added.
"We learned long ago that no good ever comes from badmouthing people - even if they can't hear you," said one of the women softly. "And we hope one day soon you will too," added the other.
The girls didn't say anything but they both knew in their hearts they had learned that very lesson that day and realized just how beautiful Grandma's friends were and just how ugly they themselves had been.
Q. How did the girls feel about badmouthing the old ladies at first?
A. They felt it was okay - especially since they thought the ladies didn't understand.
Q. How did they feel in the end?
A. They were really embarrassed and learned how important it is never to badmouth people.
Q. What life lesson do you think the girls learned from what happened?
A. One thing they learned was you can never be sure if people hear what you're saying. But even more, they learned - from how their grandmother's friends didn't speak badly about them even though they could have - how beautiful speech is what makes someone beautiful, and how gossipy speech does just the opposite.
Q. Assuming the two ladies really didn't understand English and didn't know the kids were gossiping about them, would it have been okay?
A. Gossiping and speaking badly about people - even if they never know - is a very ugly and wrong thing to do. It harms the character of the speaker and even the listener, by making them crueler. Also it creates spiritual 'bad vibes' which are bound to eventually make the lives of the speaker, listener, and the one spoken about less pleasant.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. In your opinion, is there anything wrong with simply listening to someone's gossip?
A. In fact, yes. Besides giving the gossiper an audience - which is wrong - even hearing and especially believing badmouthing and gossip, makes a person less spiritual and kind.
Q. Is it ever okay to speak badly about someone?
A. There are certain exceptions - for instance if one has to warn someone about a dangerous person, etc. But these exceptions are rare and specific and a person would gain a lot by reading one of the many Torah-based guideline books on the subject or speak to someone who has.