Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
“Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.”
–Proverbs 17:28 (NASB)
Every time you speak to someone you have the power to choose words that will strengthen, lift up, energize, elevate, inspire, encourage, enlighten, support, benefit, and help your listener in some way.
Misusing words to insult, hurt, belittle, slight, offend, disparage, put down, and cause needless pain to other human beings is a violation of the Torah prohibition against causing pain with words.
A lot of people don’t realize that it is an actual Torah violation to cause pain with words. Insults, putdowns, mocking, making fun of, and any form of non-verbal communication that causes emotional distress is included in this Torah prohibition.
When you use your power of words to make someone feel good, you are doing an act of kindness. You are elevating yourself spiritually and emotionally. You are making a friend or strengthening an already existing friendship. You are doing a great mitzvah. You are being a positive factor in someone’s life.
When people misuse the power of words to make someone feel bad, it is an act of meanness and even cruelty. They are lowering themselves spiritually and emotionally. They are making an enemy or strengthening hate. They are committing a serious transgression. They are being a negative factor in someone’s life.
Be careful not to cause pain with your words, and encourage other people to be careful not to cause pain with their words. This awareness is very important for parents and for teachers who serve as role models for their children. Those who utilize their power of speech in positive ways will have children who emulate their positive patterns.
-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin from
Chapter 46 of his book
I’ve written about this before in my short essay Living in the Dystopia: A Nation Divided. I recall the news stories and broadcasts from when I was a child, about the civil rights movement. Some stories were about peaceful marches and demonstrations, and others were about violence and riots.
And yet there was always the idea that through this process, things would eventually get better. People generally believed, especially as I graduated from high school in the early 1970s, that our nation would achieve an ever greater measure of racial equality.
Sure, it was a time of great unrest, uncertainty, and even fear, but I believed that when I became an adult, when I got married, when I had children, I would live in a time that was better for all people in our country, not just some.
What the hell happened?