28 Kislev 5782 / Thursday, December 02, 2021 | Torah Reading: Mikeitz
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People think that dodging is a game played with a ball, but the tongue has to be a very adept “dodger” to stay out of the way of lashon hara, slander, and evil speech…


If there is a sin that catches me up, above all others, it seems to me it is lashon hara, evil talk. Evil talk in this instance is the art of the snake – the negative talk that is true, as opposed to slander which is the spreading of lies. One would have to be deaf and blind not to come to the conclusion that on a global level this is an extremely common problem with which even conscientious people struggle.


When I read books on the subject of lashon hara I get overwhelmed. I know the most basic definition of it and speak it way too often. Do I really need to know the nitty-gritty? When I delve into the details of what truly constitutes lashon hara, I feel crestfallen, defeated. I feel like there’s no way I can live up to such a standard. So much of human conversation, of what is on TV, of what is written is lashon hara, one would have to disconnect from most media to avoid it. It would also make socializing difficult. It’s a tough nut to crack, this one. Over the past couple of years I have slowly tried to decrease the amount of lashon hara I speak with some success. I almost called it minor success. It is so hard for me to not do, I will not call any decrease ‘minor’. One strategy I have found successful was kind of forced on me. 
Like everyone else on earth, there are some people in my life who frustrate the heck out of me. (I am sure I also frustrate the heck out of many people myself. Don’t get me wrong.) Last year, I spoke with our rabbi about a few people in particular who were really driving me up a wall and down again. He advised me to simply avoid them, even if it was a little tough to. That was great advice. But when he gave me the advice I was afraid to act on it because it felt like I was being mean to avoid them. Was I being too judgmental? And as much as they drove me bonkers, I saw the fact that they could get to me as a weakness on my part. Why would I give someone permission to bug me like that? My inner perfectionist told me that such reactions are in my control. Even if I can not control the initial emotional reaction, I can control how I react to the emotions, right? But despite trying really hard to think generously of them, to be humble, to control myself, I was still finding myself barely able to hold back from ripping into these individuals. Not good! I was in a battle internally. One side of me was saying, “Who do you think you are Alice? You sin constantly and are standing in judgment of these two people as if you are some kind of saint. Shame on you.” Then the other voice would say, “Did you hear what person X just said to you? Did you see how that jerk just blatantly disregarded the rules of your home, the rules of common decency? Go get him!” I told our rabbi I was conflicted about avoiding them and he reassured me it was OK. They just were not good for me to be around, which does not make them bad people.
I started to avoid these people. It was not without ramifications, made things a little awkward with some other friends, but overall I could see the wisdom of Rabbi’s advice. Roughly a year later, in a fit of misplaced generosity, I put myself into a situation with them and within fifteen or twenty minutes the same old issues came up and I found myself needing to do some deep breathing exercises to avoid an ugly confrontation. It was startling to me. It felt to me like God was immediately communicating that I had taken the train off the tracks. Avoiding these people was a smart move and was good advice that I had, albeit with grand intentions, put aside. 
I was so surprised by the bad behavior that cropped up so quickly – and offended -  I felt like I needed to talk about it. I talked about it with my husband, who knew that I had been avoiding these people. I then felt the urge to call a close friend, who has witnessed some of the past unarguably bad behavior these folks have engaged in, to say, “Can you believe what happened! Within twenty minutes!” But it’s kind of strange. I pictured myself having that conversation and felt repulsed by the visual, by the sound of it. That’s not who I want to be. It made me feel even kind of sad. This is a new emotion for me to feel on this subject. Sad? Often I enjoy without any guilt this kind of salacious grist. But now it’s making me a little sad. It’s sad that the people involved don’t know how to behave. Why do I need to compound it by reaffirming what my other friend already knows about them? It’s just adding to the stink and making me look bad too. I wanted to slap back at them for making me sad, for being rude. Instead of confronting them, which granted would have been tough in the situation, I wanted to make sure someone else really knew just how bad they were.
I wanted to gang up on these people, to gawk at them after the fact with another person who sympathized with me. Yet, by the grace of God, I somehow managed to contain the damage. Now I’ll pray that I can continue to keep my mouth shut. (Feel free to throw in your own prayers for me so that I can continue to zip it.) I learned that there are some people who are triggers for me. Not that it is their responsibility to keep me from speaking lashon hara - that is my responsibility. But their way of being and my way of being produces flames, combustible situations. Those combustible situations feed directly into my need to talk about the actors involved after the fact, so I need to avoid them for my sake, for the sake of the listener, and for the sake of the people being talked about.

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