10 Steps to Speaking More Nicely

Kind or cruel, words affect us. Derogatory, disparaging, belittling, manipulative language, even if TRUE but especially when FALSE, can seriously damage a person’s confidence and self-esteem. Blame, insults, put-downs, labels, criticism, comparisons and diagnoses mold the way we think about people, actions and the world around us. Their use makes us less civil with each other. We call these statements: Evil Speech.

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1. Be aware! If during a conversation, someone’s skin becomes flushed or pale, you may have hurt them.

2. Speak positively. Don’t assume you know the reason why someone said what they did. All you really know is that they did or said something. You don’t know why until you ask. Everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt.

3. Jokes are funny, except for the person who is the butt of it or has had the same experience.

4. Your words have the power to hurt 3 people: you, the person you are talking to and the person you’re talking about. Speaking badly about someone, even if you include yourself, still hurts.

5. Evil Speech includes your tone of voice, your facial expressions, and your body language, as well as the words, you speak, write, tweet, sign, etc.

6. Speaking badly about a group or a community hurts many people.

7. Don’t repeat Evil Speech to ANYONE.

8. Don’t listen to Evil Speech. Even if it is public knowledge, it is still wrong.

9. Telling someone what you’ve been told about them may simply make things worse, and put you in the middle where you become the bad guy.

10. SOMETIMES, Evil Speech is necessary. For example, using it to warn someone that they are about to make a BIG mistake, in an effort to save them from a bad relationship or a disastrous business deal. You may also use it to protect someone who is being hurt by the things that are being said to or about them.

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WARNING SOMEONE

You are obliged to warn someone before they are harmed, but before you take any action, the following five conditions must be met. (Note: step 10 above.)

A) You must give the matter much thought before you decide that the action the possible “victim” is considering will actually be detrimental.

B) You must not exaggerate the extent to which the decision they are about to make can prove damaging.

C) You should be motivated solely by the desire to aid the person you are warning, not by any feelings of dislike for the person you are speaking against. You must force yourself to have pure intentions even if this is difficult.

This, however, does not free you from your obligation to save others involved from possible loss or harm. However, if you know that the person you are considering warning will disregard your advice, you should remain silent.

D) If it is possible to bring about the same results, without saying anything derogatory, about the “perpetrator”, you should do so.

E) Your warning must not cause the “perpetrator” any damage greater than he would receive in a Court of Law. That is, the only injury he will suffer is related to the one action about which you are concerned. If as a result of your intervention he will be harmed in any other way, you are should not speak against him.

You are obligated to rebuke the “perpetrator” for his intentions before you report his plans, unless you know that he will not listen to you. You are also obligated to rebuke the person for his past actions before you report them to someone else, unless you are convinced that he will not heed your rebuke.

You must make sure that your actions will not infuriate either one of the parties and cause a confrontation that might, otherwise, not have happened.

(Pliskin, Zelig, Guard Your Tongue, A Practical Guide to the laws of Lashon Hora, 1975, Bnay Yakov Publications, 1742 East 7th Street, Brooklyn, New York, 11223, pg. 164) 

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7 Conditions for Using Evil Speech

It is permissible to speak negatively about a person, if you are doing it for a constructive purpose, i.e. to rebuke a Habitual User

(1) to help the person, or
(2) to help anyone victimized by the person, or
(3) to resolve major disputes, or
(4) to enable others to learn from the mistakes of that person, provided that the following 7 conditions are met:

(1) One must be absolutely certain that their remarks are based on first-hand information, not hearsay. If after careful investigation the information is second hand, that fact must be clearly stated.

(2) You must be sure that a wrong has actually been done.

(3) The person has been spoken to in private, but refuses to change his behavior.

(4) The statement to be made will be true and accurate, not exaggerated, especially, if it is an emotional issue.

(5) The intent of the speaker is only for a constructive purpose; solely to help the victim. He must not have any other, ulterior motive.

(6) There is no other way to fix the problem.

(7) The statement to be made must not make things worse or be unfair.

(Rabbis Finkleman and Berkowitz, “Chofetz Chaim: A Lesson a Day”,  Artscroll Mesorah Press, Brooklyn, NY in cooperation with the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation, pg. 148)

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