black and white photo of a girl in the front wearing a sweatshirt and looking sad and two girls behind her whispering with arms crossed and staring at the forward girl with discontent.
Credit: Barbora Franzová

Stefani Chudnow

We’ve been to family dinners with loud, controversial discussions. We read comments from trolls on the Internet and replies to those comments. We hang out with friends and complain about our lives as if everything is terrible just for a moment. But what do these three activities have in common? Chances are, while you’re spending time with people or on the Internet, you’re going to encounter people talking negatively about one another, or in a more succinct term, gossiping. In my elementary school Hebrew classes, I learned the Hebrew term for this: lashon hara, which directly translates to “evil tongue.”

One of the common stereotypes about Jewish people is that we like talking and that we have strong opinions that we like to share. I’m sure you’ve heard “two Jews, three opinions” at one point or another. While the stereotype isn’t exactly complimentary, it has proven true in my experience.

I’m a recent college grad who majored in writing and arts/humanities. Throughout the past few years, I have consistently felt anxious whenever I had to tell someone what I was studying in college, whether that was a relative, friend or stranger. I’ve lost count of how many times someone gave me a sympathetic nod or told me I wouldn’t be able to get a good job and I’d be poor forever.

Outside of what I’ve been told about my career path, I’ve also had some severely uncomfortable experiences dealing with my family’s strong opinions regarding LGBT+ people, Muslims, overweight people and other people and topics. At this point, I’m tired of hearing someone I love speak rudely about someone or some people who can’t help who, or what, they are. This, combined with how people talk about my career path, has made me want to inspire people to do more good in the world. As such, similar to what I wrote about in my last blog, I’d like to provide some words of wisdom that will do just that.

Instead of spreading lashon hara to your friends and family about why an overweight person is the way they are or criticizing a gay man for acting too feminine, think about the words you’re saying. If what someone else is doing isn’t directly harming you, perhaps start considering whether your opinion is worth verbalizing. There’s always a chance that what you’re about to say will make someone feel hurt or uncomfortable, whether it’s the person you’re directly criticizing or the person with whom you’re hanging out.

By keeping lashon hara in our own minds instead of telling other people, we can start improving ourselves from the inside out, thereby helping to forge a more positive world. If we’re not supportive of other people, how can we expect them to support us when we need them?

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