Sitting through last week’s Torah portion is a little like sitting through a baseball game. Pretty long. Relaxing (lots of repetition). Moments of highlight (the Nazir – our version of a monk, the Sotah – adulterous woman, and Temple dedication).
One of these highlights that make my ears perk up (I don’t jump out of my seat to cheer as I do at Nationals Stadium, although sometimes I think that might spice up Synagogue a bit) is the description of dealing with lepers. People who have leprosy are forced out of the camp for the duration of their illness.
Besides being incredibly un-PC, this has no basis in fact. Leprosy isn’t contagious. There are no other diseases that push people out of the camp. So what’s really going on here?
There is a long tradition that leprosy is connected with lashon hara or “evil” talk. This association dates back to Miriam – Moses’ sister – who develops leprosy after speaking badly about Moses’ wife. So what is the connection to leaving the camp?
Communication is central to our relationships and thus to our community.
How we speak to one another is the key to strong bonds and fundamentally to leadership. Everyone has the power to be a leader and that leadership can lead people toward the good or toward the bad. Rhetoric is the tool to take people there.
In Mark Wiskup’s The “It” Factor he argues that when we open our mouths our goal is “to make something new happen, to shake things up – in a big way, a small way, or a medium way.” “All talking is about change.”
The big question is: Am I aware of the effect my speech will have?
Leaders need to be continuously aware of the impact of their words. When you speak, speak with intentionality. There is NO SUCH THING as a casual conversation. Within the context of your organization, you are always the leader. Sure it’s a pain to constantly inquire “what will this person take from this conversation?” but it is an important consideration.
People using their speech for negativity (lashon hara) are sent out of the group, separated from the people they could influence. It’s not enough to stay in your home. People might come to see you. You must be quarantined away from all. That is how contagious negativity can be.
Everyone should be thinking about what we say, to whom, and perhaps most importantly how we say it. There are great resources out there to work on our communication, such as The IT Factor, How To Talk So Your Kids Will Listen series, and Fierce Conversations. Or to get a conversation started at work, try the youtube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4LNYH_5III&feature=related, and to start with a Jewish source try Joseph Telushkin’s article at http://www.myjewishlearning.com/practices/Ethics/Talk_and_Gossip/Types_of_Speech/Gossip_Rumors_and_Lashon_Hara/Lashon_Hara.shtml