In EmunahSpeak: Nothing but Thoughts, Rabbi Shalom Arush told us in the name of Rebbe Nachman that character traits are nothing but thoughts, with the prevailing thoughts delineating the essence of one’s mindset at any given time.
A person usually speaks what’s on his mind, so if the prevailing thoughts in one’s head are grist for the loshon hora mill is there any wonder as to what’s going to spring forth from between those not so tightly closed lips?
If you don’t think it you can’t say it, and if you do think it make sure it’s squeaky clean.
In GuardYourSpeak: The Clarity of Context, we observed that Whatever you see your neighbor do you also did once upon a time or may well do tomorrow with but a slight variation on the theme, not enough to take it out of whatever aveira was the touchstone between your two neshamos at different points in time.
And on this we asked, (so) why is it that there is a Grand Canyon disconnect between the understanding with which you view your actions and the jaundiced eye that you cast upon the missteps of your friend, sufficient to ignite within you a desire to talk about it?
The answer, of course, was that we are more accepting of ourselves because we possess the clarity that comes from being cognizant of the context from which all of our mistakes flow, which in turn enhances our understanding of all of our shortcomings.
But while context goes a long way in explaining the double standard by which we judge the actions of others vis á vis our own, it doesn’t go the total route.
It’s a montage with a wide angle focus that can present us with a myriad of facts sufficient to morph what was originally nothing but a bare bones sketch into a high resolution image bursting with detail as to the back story of what it was that caught our eye. That in turn impacts on what motivated the behavior that was weighed by us and found wanting.
But there are other times where the context of a situation is an open book that's in our face, and it may not even be a situation in which we are dwelling on yenem’s faults which, as we said above, will almost invariably lead to loshon hora, while rationalizing our own. Maybe it’s a case where your friend is, in fact, messing up while you’re being a big tzaddik.
There’s someone in your shul that shows up late every morning about two minutes before Borchu, and he doesn’t come rushing in either. And it just so happens that you’re the first one there. You don’t know him that well but you do know that there’s nothing doing in his house that would slow him up in the morning.
The number of kindred scenarios is only circumscribed by the limits of your imagination, and it goes without saying that both your mind and tongue should be focused elsewhere just as it should always be except when there is a legitimate toellis afoot.
We’re talking here about our inability to see past our self imposed delineation of reality.
In the situations where we are find ourselves bereft of proper context, such as those which we spoke about in GuardYourSpeak: The Clarity of Context, our tendency, as we said, is to cast a cold eye on the other guy's doings while rationalizing our own miss-steps.
But on other occasions, when there is a clear distinction in our favor between our avoda and that of our friend, leaving us nothing to rationalize, it never occurs to us that for all we know, maybe talking during davening is the one thing he does wrong whereas never uttering a word during davening is the one thing we do right.