Proverbs 18:21 tells us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” How true! Words that roll off this two-ounce slab of muscle and mucous membrane have an inordinate capacity to affect lives. Consider for example, the speeches of Nazi miscreant Adolf Hitler, contrasted with those of statesman Winston Churchill, during the Second World War. Both were eloquent orators. Hitler, on one side of the Channel, used his words to lead a nation into devilish crimes against humanity. Winston Churchill, on the other side of the Channel, used his rhetorical skill to lead a nation to the highest and most noble sacrifice, to England’s credit in her finest hour.
We need to be discerning about what we listen to and what we are quick to believe. The Talmud asks, “Why do human fingers resemble pegs?” and then answers, “So that if one hears something unseemly, one can plug one’s fingers in one’s ears” (Ketuvot 5b).
We need to be especially discerning when it comes to negative or critical remarks, because those are the ones that people love to repeat. Bertrand Russell once dryly observed that no one ever gossips about another’s secret virtues.