Thursday, November 25, 2010

Lashon Tova : Sarcasm, Holy Speech, and Speaking From The Heart

When I was in Israel on seminary, I noticed paper taped to the fridge door in the dorm kitchen. It talked about something called, "Loshon Hora", or correctly pronounced, "Lashon Hara". What is Lashon Hara? If I understand correctly, it translates as "evil tongue", or "evil speech". The halacha (Jewish Law) surrounding Lashon Hara is interesting, because it relates specifically to gossip, or discussions that could cause embarrassment to another human being. What makes this subject interesting is that the laws focus on gossip that is true (there are separate laws for false gossip, known as "Motzi Shem Ra"). Lashon Hara is seen as a such a serious crime that it's said to be equivalent to murder. Up on my bathroom wall, I have a paper that says,

Am I speaking to the problem, or the solution?

Are my words framed in a kind manner?

Is what I'm going to say important?

Am I being pompous, or is there a purpose to my advice?

I'll make a "confession". I love attention. You don't name a blog Mamzer HaKodesh, a.k.a. The Holy Bastard, otherwise. Shock value can be a good thing. It can create stimulating discussion and offer a space for new perspectives to be heard. However, it's becoming more and more important that I do not use shock value to hide my true self. That's the paradox of shock value. It gives you attention, but it covers you up at the same time. At least that's what it does for me.

My oldest friend, whom I've known for over twenty years, likes to tell people the story of how we became friends. She saw me standing outside alone in the rain one day at our elementary school. She felt bad for me, and so she came out and tried to talk to me. I told her to fuck off. We were six.

I must be very charismatic, because she continued to try to get to know me, and we ended up becoming the best of friends. Of course, I didn't stop swearing. I swore with joy and passion for a long time, until at some point in my teens, it happened. I would open my mouth to swear, and I would feel an internal part of me cringing. It drove me nuts. This might have been around the same time I started to be called to a Christian spiritual path.

I don't know if there's anything inherently wrong with swearing. In fact, I think it's sacred, a way to glorify God. I'm not sure why. Maybe because swearing has always been part of the dialect of the poor, and the poor are holy. The poor don't have time to censor their speech the way the middle and upper classes do. So it develops in a way that's sort of ugly, and the emotional defense mechanisms used to survive oppression are woven into every syllable. And yet it's also quite beautiful. I think there's a natural way of speech that the poor have. It's speech that comes up with it's own organic musical tones and rhythms, as opposed to the cultivated sounds of the bourgeois or wealthy. It's like the difference between a prize rosebush and a wild rose. The prize one may look more elegant, but the wild rose may smell better and is hardier.

In any case, I started, in my teens, to feel this internal cringing when I opened my mouth to swear. I was angry at my feelings, and afraid of them. They indicated that I was soft and vulnerable. They reminded me that I was a person whose heart enjoys pretty things, who wanted to believe in the goodness of the world and sit and enjoy beauty. That scared me too. Inclinations like that meant I could be manipulated and tricked. I would choke down my cringes and spit out the swearing even if it made me uncomfortable. And that's how a lot of my softness has been hidden. I've had to be the toughest, the weirdest, the craziest, the most daring. And the thing is, I'm not that tough. Nor am I the weirdest or craziest.

Last week, I wrote about how I'm working on becoming more myself. One way to work on this is to practice Lashon Tova, or "Good Speech". For me, this means speaking from the heart.

This means that I try to watch my sarcasm. If I'm angry, or hurt, I try to focus on what I'm feeling and say that instead of saying something sarcastic. It means I try to spend time with males I adore and don't make lots of jokes to cover up my feelings. It means that if a friend is telling me about a problem, I resist the urge to make a snappy comment that reflects my intellectual brilliance but makes my friend feel insecure. It means that I try to hold my tongue if I feel I'm saying something if I feel it's coming from a place of false ego rather than my true self.

So if some jerk starts rambling about their bigoted and closed minded views, I don't always cut them down to size, even if I can. I'm becoming a frustrating little peace-nik as I get older. Gone are the days when I would look at someone trying throw their weight around and belittle alternative spiritual or political views, and verbally slice them into thin slivers of sashimi.

It also means that I try not to berate myself or others when I or they are being whiny. You know, the "poor me", "why is the world out of get me", "I'm going to lay here in my misery" kind of thing? The self-centered anger and fear in a world where a billion people don't have adequate nutrition?? I get so angry at myself and others for that. But instead of making fun of a person who's stuck in self-defeating ego and fear, I try to walk a balance between firmness, refusing to give out the pity that is being requested of me, and showing love, compassion, and reassurance. I have an idea that this compassion, and kindness to myself and others when I or they engage in it, is one of the major lessons I'll be learning in this lifetime.

And that's all well and good and full of flowers, butterflies, and moonbeams, but what does it mean in reality? It means it's happening slowly, one bit at time. It means that I'm at a point where I'm feeling quite bored and have a lot of energy I don't know what to do with. It used to come out in highly inappropriate but shocking and entertaining rants, and now what? I feel sluggish. Maybe I should yell at bigots? If everyone gives up false ego and refuses to challenge them, how will bigoted jerks ever learn? What is there to do while I'm learning to be more honest and open? What do I do with myself at this point?

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