Pillow Feathers and Speech

October 4, 2010

Robert Forto

Pillow Feathers and Speech

Do you remember the saying that your mom tried to teach you when you were still wet behind the ears:

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

In this day and age under the masked veil of anonymity on social media, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, the editorial pages and gossip we have (sadly) developed into a culture of Nosey Nellies. For some reason a vast majority of us think it is OKAY to tell people’s darkest secrets to everyone that they can without a thought of the harm that “news”, “gossip”, “tattle-telling”, whatever you want to call it, will bring.

Everyone has skeletons in their closets. Some people it is an ex-wife, a sordid past, a medical condition, a family controversy… and when someone thinks it is their duty to report the “news” it is often at the expense of someone else.

There are T.V. shows abound about gossip (TMZ and Showbiz Tonight, etc.), there are websites galore. One could spend all of their energy responding to commentary but most  of us have better things to do. Or do we?

While I am not Jewish, this makes me think of a story in Judaism about improper speech. It goes a little something like this. Maybe you have heard it maybe you haven’t.

A young man was going around town telling malicious stories about a Rabbi.  Later he realized the wrong he had done and began to feel remorse. He went to the Rabbi and begged for forgiveness and said he would do anything to right his wrongs and to make amends.

The Rabbi told the young man, “take a feather pillow, cut it open and scatter the feathers to the winds.”  The young man thought that was a strange request, but it was a simple task and he did it gladly.

Later, when he returned to tell the Rabbi that he had completed the mission the Rabbi said he had one more thing to do to make the act complete. The young man hurriedly agreed thinking to himself, how hard could it be, the first task was so simple.

The Rabbi then said, “now go and gather the feathers. Because you can no more make amends for the damage your words have done than you can recollect the feathers.”


Tale-bearing gossip: in the Jewish commandments it is a violation  to say anything about another person, even it is true, even it if it is negative, even if it is not secret, even it it hurts no one, even if the person himself would tell the same thing if asked.

The gravest of sins of tale-bearing is lashon ha-ra (literally meaning, “the evil tongue”), which includes discrediting a person or saying negative things about a person even if those negative things are true. Indeed, true statements are more damaging than false ones, because you can’t defend yourself by disproving the negative statement if it’s true!

So ask yourself, rabid readers, before your post that negative comment on a blog or quickly try to discredit those who you see as competitors or any other act of story telling about someone when you have  little to none of the facts… would you want people to air your dirty laundry to everyone? Would you want your skeletons unlocked from your closet? Probably not.

I welcome your comments and suggestions. Please comment below.

Robert Forto | Team Ineka | Alaska Dog Works | Mushing Radio | Dog Doctor Radio | Denver Dog Works


Dr. Robert Forto is a musher training for his first Iditarod under the Team Ineka banner and the host of the popular radio shows, Mush! You Huskies and The Dog Doctor Radio Show

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About robertforto

Robert Forto is the owner of Dog Works Training Company in Alaska, a canine behaviorist, mushin' down a dream, sports nut and radio show host. Robert writes a lot about his observations in Alaska, pop culture, music, and of course dogs!

View all posts by robertforto

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