Have you ever wondered how often people gossip? Thanks to a new study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, you will no longer be left wondering. The study found that the typical person (not you, of course!) spends about 52 minutes per day gossiping. “Gossip” in this context is defined as talking about a person who isn’t present. The study furthermore showed that the majority of the gossip – 75% – was neutral, whereas 15% was negative gossip, and the remaining 10% was positive or flattering.
You might be thinking that if only 15% of the 52 minutes a day – about 8 minutes – is spent talking negatively about others, what’s the big deal? It might seem like a small amount, but multiply this by weeks, months, and for arguments sake 80 years, and it turns out that those 8 minutes turn into 230,000 plus minutes of negative gossip. Point made. I hope.
But the question is why? Why do humans’ gossip? Why do we spend so much time talking about other people? Mark Leary, PhD, a professor at Duke University, explains that “gossiping is a fundamental human instinct because our lives are deeply rooted in groups. We not only live in groups, but we also depend on the people in our groups to survive. We need to have as much information as possible about the people around us in order to know what various other people are like, who can and can’t be trusted, who breaks group rules, who is friends with who, what other people’s personalities and viewpoints are, and so on.”
While there is definitely some truth to what Leary suggests, the Torah makes it clear that it is possible to live in a group, a community, and survive as well as thrive, without speaking “Lashon Harah” about one another. Ironically, it is the one who speaks Lashon Harah that becomes afflicted with the Tzaraas (lesions) disease – as depicted in this week’s Parshah – and is ousted from the community. בדד ישב – he must sit in isolation, alone, away from the group, at a distance from his community. Chazal say that Lashon Harah comes from the attribute of גאוה, haughtiness. When a person feels like he is on top, then he is in a position to put others on the bottom. It’s as simple as that.
One of the fascinating parts of the whole Metzora process is that the Torah (13:45) mandates that the person afflicted with Tzaraas proclaim the words: טמא טמא – “Impure, Impure!” in order to make sure others don’t come near him. I have a question. Let’s say I want the world to know that I like French Fries, how would I go about doing that? Would I get an interview with Fox News and proclaim the words, “French Fries. French Fries!” Probably not, right? I would probably say, “I like French Fries. I like French Fries!” because then people will know that I like French Fries and am not merely saying some random words.
So too here, why does the Metzora say “Impure, Impure!” and not אני טמא אני טמא – “I am impure, I am impure”? A few years ago, my friend – Dovid Altshuler – offered a beautiful answer. A Jew should never define himself as, “I am impure!” Although he might be in a state of impurity, his very essence is not impure. This lesson is so true.
Just as the Metzora must look at others with respect and not speak negatively about them, so too he should look at himself with respect and not speak Lashon Harah about himself by saying, “I am impure!” Usually, when a person puts someone else down, he too is struggling with something. If a person is haughty and puts others down, it shows a lack in real and true respect within his own self. To remedy these toxic negative thoughts and words, a person must work on building up his own self-esteem by realizing his true self-worth. Good Shabbos!