Thinking About the Things We Say
Back in the day, I had a “frenemy” who, as it turned out, was pretty hell-bent on taking me down. This person really did what they could to hurt me. I was deeply upset, I was angry, I was all of those things you feel when you find out that someone you thought you liked was venomous and dangerous. I restrained myself from fighting back. I tried to take the high road. But one day I heard that something unfortunate and humiliating had happened to this person. And my reaction was deep relief and…happiness. There went the high road. So, why does it feel so good to hear something bad about someone you don’t like? Or someone you DO like? Or someone you don’t KNOW? I once asked the editor of a tabloid newspaper why all of the stories about a famous British couple had a negative bent. He said that when the headline was positive, the paper didn’t sell. Why is that? What’s wrong with us? I asked some sages to shed a little light.
Here’s to washing our mouths out with soap..
I’m curious about the spiritual concept of “evil tongue” (speaking evil of others) and its pervasiveness in our culture. Why do people become energized when they say or read something negative about someone else? What does it say about where that person is? What are the consequences of perpetuating negativity or feeling schadenfreude?
Most of us don’t give much thought to the things we say. We assume that once we’ve said something, it’s over and done with. Spiritually, this is not true. Words are energy and they live on. The comments flowing out of our mouths do not simply disappear into thin air. They remain with us at all times, hindering or helping our spiritual growth.
“We assume that once we’ve said something, it’s over and done with. Spiritually, this is not true.”
When we speak positively and refrain from evil speech, we surround ourselves with more and more positive energy, therefore sustaining our spiritual growth. Conversely, when we speak negatively about others, our words stay with us wherever we go, blocking our happiness. For instance, when we wake up in a bad mood for no apparent reason, Kabbalists explain there is a reason. The energy we created by maligning someone’s character yesterday adversely affects us today. And if we don’t go through a process of cleansing that energy by apologizing or committing to never do it again, it continues to stay with and influence us in negative ways. As a great Kabbalist once said, “Pay more attention to what goes out of your mouth than to what goes in.”
“As a great Kabbalist once said, “Pay more attention to what goes out of your mouth than to what goes in.””
Furthermore, we each have dormant, spiritual forces within—both positive and negative. These forces are awakened depending on where we focus our thoughts, words, and consciousness. When we are busy focusing on and discussing the positive aspects in others, we awaken the sleeping beneficent forces within, enabling us to experience more joy and fulfillment in our lives. However, when we focus on others’ bad traits and gossip about them, we awaken the sleeping forces of negativity within, which have a very real, damaging effect on our lives.
The triggering of these forces is what determines whether we live a life marked by chaos and lack or joy and fulfillment.
Without a doubt, we are each constantly thrust into interactions with difficult people, leading us to want to judge and see their worst qualities. However, it is in our own best interest to fight this innate tendency of focusing on the negativity we so plainly see and instead to speak only of the good.
It is my hope that by understanding how evil speech damages us—not the person being spoken about—we will all be a little more mindful of the words we choose to speak so that we can experience greater joy and fulfillment in our everyday lives.
– Michael Berg is co-director of the Kabbalah Centre.