Ahh gossip, it's the stuff Jerry Springer, E Entertainment Channel and countless other media venues thrive on. But they're not the only ones; gossip pervades everyday life, you can't escape it, whether you're the one being talked about or you're listening to a couple of people in the groccery checkout line talk about someone. It's there and we all do it. I thought about this recently when I came across the Hebrew concept of Lashon Ha Ra which means "evil language, tongue". But what does that mean? How does one speak with an evil tongue?
Lashon Ha Ra occurs when folks stand around the water cooler at work and drag another persons name through the mud in an effort to belittle, mock or otherwise gain pleasure from discussing the individual in question. Gossip is always wrong but engaging n Lashon Ha Ra requires that someone isn't interested in improving a situation or circumstance. An interesting kicker is, in order for the act to be lashon ha ra, the statements being expressed must be true. So in other words, we might be discussing the truth of a situation or detail about a person, but if it's not beneficial to the person or situation, then it's Lashon Ha Ra, it's petty gossip.
However, there are exceptions to Lashon Ha Ra (from www.chabad.org )
1. Lashon hara literally means bad talk. This means that it is forbidden to speak negatively about someone else, even if it's true.10
2. It is also forbidden to repeat anything about another, even if it is not a negative thing. This is called rechilut.11
3. It is also forbidden to listen to lashon hara. One should either reprimand the speaker, or, if that's not possible, one should extricate oneself from that situation.12
4. Even if one has already heard the lashon hara, it is forbidden to believe it. On the contrary, one should always judge one's fellow favorably.13
5. Nevertheless, one may suspect that the lashon hara is true and take the necessary precautions to protect oneself.14
6. It is forbidden to even make a motion that is derogatory towards someone.15
7. One may not even retell a negative event without using names if the listeners might be able to figure out who is being spoken of.16
8. In certain circumstances, e.g., to protect someone from harm, it is permissible or even obligatory to share negative information. As there are many details to this law, one should consult a competent rabbi to learn what may be shared in any particular situation
From a personal standpoint, I wonder what benefit there is to being involved in Lashon Ha Ra? I think a corruption of soul takes place, this very sin pollutes peace of mind, the justice of truth and wears down a persons moral and optimism. In a world bombarded by negativity, death and senseless violence, do I really need to contribute to strife by talking poorly of another person. The answer resounding inside me now is "NO!".
I don't have to commit Lashon Ha Ra, I don't have to be cruel with my tongue. I can have peace of mind by keeping my peace about people and situations when it doesn't benefit or improve anything.