When I was about sixteen I went into “the city” (that means New York City, to me, because there’s only one NYC!) and took a long walk across midtown.
Along the way I had my palm read, which is not okay to do according to the way that I was raised. But I did it, because I was too curious to wait and find out what my future would bring.
It turns out that spending $5 on a street psychic was overall a dumb thing to do, for a lot of reasons, but one of them is that you end up believing that what they tell you is true. In other words, life becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.
But there was one redeeming part of my mistake, and that was an offhand comment the person made after the reading: “If you can avoid it, don’t gossip. Gossip is bad for the soul.”
My great-grandfather, Reb Dovid Garfinkel, may he rest in peace, is remembered by the family for his frequent admonishments about this. So much so, in fact, that this side of the family avoids prolonged conversation.
(To some who don’t understand, this can seem a little cold, but avoiding the potential for gossip is the reason behind it.)
As a neighborhood acquaintance recently put it, “There are so many things you’re not allowed to say, when it comes to the Jewish laws about lashon hara, (evil speech, Hebrew for ‘gossip’), that basically you’re left only talking about the weather.”
We sort of laughed, ha-ha laughed, like this was a joke, when she said this. But the truth is, Jewish laws about clean speech are really very strict.
So strict, in fact, that you aren’t even supposed to say something good about a person, because praising them might cause someone else to lean in with a jab.
I thought of this the other day, when a friend told me about her experience looking for an event planner.
The person she interviewed seemed good enough, but one of their references highlighted specific areas of concern.
My friend decided not to hire the person after all, based on this report. But I questioned her: Doesn’t the planner deserve the opportunity to make their case? To know what others are saying about them, and to respond?
This concept seems really important in today’s day and age, when the line between fact and opinion is so regularly blurred in conversations and in the news. People are so strongly polarized, that rarely do they spend the time to talk to one another, not to “convince” but to learn.
In organizational development they call the latter kind of talk “appreciative inquiry.”
It’s important in the workplace to have this skill. Because often, flaming disputes can arise where a discussion would have diffused it.
And most of us can probably think of a “family feud” that could have been avoided, but instead dragged on like the Hatfields and the McCoys, over not just decades but generations.
It’s true, we aren’t living in Fantasyland, and sometimes you have to speak about unpleasant things, and that often means human behavior.
But gossip — mindless, hateful, poisonous gossip — is something very different altogether. And if it is at all possible, gossip is a good thing to avoid, because it really is poison. Not just to the other person, but to your own soul as well.
Before you make a snap judgment about another human being, especially one based on what “other people” have said, consider whether it’s possible to just walk up and ask them directly about your concerns.
Posted Jan. 3 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. This post is hereby released into the public domain. All opinions are the author’s own. CC0 Creative Commons photo by Geralt.