“Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?”

Mr. EK and I are chatting while I make dinner.  Someone in his professional world has been a bonehead, so I say, “What a bonehead.”

Shayna and Asher start laughing, I can only guess imagining said person with a bone as a head.  I didn’t even realize they were in the kitchen.

I think, oh crap, I hope they don’t repeat that.  Then it occurs to me, oh crap, I shouldn’t have said that.

I’m pretty sure I’m within my rights as a human being to think pretty much whatever I want about other people.  I’m also very sure I shouldn’t say whatever I want about other people.

How many times have we ‘led by example’ in the lashon harah [gossip and unkind speech] department?  Legitimate venting is one thing.  In the right context and in the appropriate company it is healthy.  Simply being nasty, unkind or spiteful shouldn’t be acceptable.

The Wall Street Journal posted an article recently on this very subject.

Wendy Fandl sees a lot of children growing up without a lot of guidance. They say harsh and hurtful things about each other, and the words come too easily. Encouraged by the snarkiness in pop culture today, they seem more sarcastic than past generations.

“Kids are struggling,” says Ms. Fandl, who oversees an after-school program at Community Presbyterian Church in Delhi, Calif. “They’re looking for answers.”

Instead of answers, however, Ms. Fandl offers them questions.

She suggests that before they say something to or about someone else, they should ask themselves: “Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?”

These three questions have been around for centuries, attributed to Socrates and Buddhist teachings, and linked to the tenets of Christianity and the Jewish prohibition on “lashon hara,” or evil language. But now, in an age of cultural shrillness and unrestrained rumor-mongering on the Internet, these three questions (or variations of them) are finding new adherents. In schools, workplaces, churches, therapy groups—and at kitchen tables—the questions are being used to temper one of the uglier human impulses.

The article does acknowledge the need for basic social interaction, sometimes in the form of harmless gossip.  It’s the next level that we’re talking about here.  A – “Did you hear about Bob in accounting?  He got fired.” – between 2 co-workers is different from a – “Did you hear about Bob in accounting?  He got fired – I heard he slept with the boss’s wife.  What a loser.” – around the water cooler with 6 other people.

We all chat and gossip and – yes – trash talk amongst close friends and spouses.  The real issue is how far we take it, and in front of whom.  I may feel quite deeply that someone’s teacher is a nutcase, but I think it’s my responsibility to model that perhaps “we need to look at an issue from all sides” when dealing with a challenging interpersonal situation.  I may, later that night in the privacy of our bedroom, say to Mr. EK, “Wow that teacher is a whole cup o’ crazy,” but I probably shouldn’t stand in the carpool line with the other parents and kids (or sit at my dinner table) demeaning her.

I’m not going to lie; it’s hard.  Sometimes my kids come home with stories, and I just want to say, “You have my permission to slap that kid upside the head” or “Holy Moses what the hell was that teacher thinking?”  Clearly, in light of the incident I opened this post with, I’m far from good at monitoring myself.  I also struggle with when it is ok to tell my kids someone is off the mental grid (kid or adult).  I’ve used the tried-and-true “Sounds like that person did not use their best judgement” which just rings hollow when everyone knows that what I just said is code for “wow that’s really f-ed up.”

Which is why I liked the article in the WSJ.  “Is it kind?  Is it true?  Is it necesary?”  These questions are good benchmarks for gauging our conversations and our speech.  It reminds me that while sometimes information may be necessary to pass along, it should be delivered as respectfully and as honestly as possible.

I’m thinking I need that reminder.  Like, every freaking day.

4 thoughts on ““Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?”

  1. this is really, really good advice and an excellent reminder. b/c kids, for sure, do as we do. i was thinking about *telling* my kids that i’m working on this. why oh why? b/c i think that they’d love to remind me when i make a mistake, it would enforce that we all make mistakes & are works in progress, etc but need to learn from said mistakes when we make them and last, but not least, to open the dialogue so if they just so happen to gossip, etc maybe it (i) won’t seem accusing/ nagging if i bring it up? anyway, thanks for a great post!

  2. unfortunately, many of today’s ultra-Orthodox leadership invoke ‘lashon hara’ to stifle appropriate criticism of their (mis)handling of cases of spousal and sexual abuse and tax cheating.

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