Free shipping! Free returns! More and more, people seem to be shopping online over brick and mortar stores because it’s easier and less time-consuming. And if something doesn’t fit or we just don’t care for it, we simply send the item back, our money is returned, and it’s like it never happened. It’s a beautiful thing.
But when it comes to other areas of our lives, in particular our behavior and speech, there are no returns. Whatever we say or do cannot be taken back. This is great news for all the good stuff we put into the world because that good can have a ripple effect that is powerful and far-reaching. Unfortunately, when we behave or speak hurtfully, that too can create a chain reaction. Even if the damage is minimal, we cannot stop it or take it back. No returns.
If this happens, yes, we can (and should) apologize, ask for forgiveness, and be forgiven. But even under the best circumstances, we can never fully repair the hurt that we caused.
There is a famous Jewish story about a man who has a problem with gossiping. Realizing this is an issue, he seeks the counsel of a rabbi. The rabbi tells the man to cut open a pillow, and dump all of the feathers out of a window. The man does this, and after a few minutes, the rabbi tells the man to collect all the feathers. “That’s impossible,” says the man, “There’s no way I could find every single feather.” To which the rabbi responds, “And so it is with our speech. Once the words fly from our mouths, they go with the wind, and we can never retrieve them.”
This story is told to teach the Jewish value of Seyag LiD’varav (guarding one’s speech), which applies to gossip but also to controlling oneself from saying something hurtful.
I have said many hurtful things over the years, particularly in moments of frustration or anger; and all of them were said to the people I care about the most, sadly. I have also gossiped. It’s devastating to know that I can’t take those words back; however, that pain and helplessness has been a powerful reminder to show restraint in a new moment. In more recent years, I have gotten much better at Seyag LiD’varav because I’ve decided ahead of time that regardless of the circumstances, I will be very mindful of what I say. Nothing good can come from lashing out, so I just don’t want to go there.
Is my record perfect? No. Does this mean that I don’t speak my mind? No. I definitely speak my mind—just as respectfully as possible. And of course, it continues to be a challenge; and I suspect it always will be.
It is far easier to deal with the challenge of restraining ourselves in a heated (when it comes to anger) or tempting (when it comes to gossip) moment than to deal with the futile challenge of repairing the damage afterward. Remember—no returns.
Something to try:
The next time you’re tempted to gossip, stop yourself and envision the potential harm that will come from you saying what you’re about to say. Even more difficult than that, the next time you’re angry and tempted to say something hurtful, there is the tiniest fraction of a moment available to you to stop yourself. It’s really tough to do, but it can be done; it should be done. Stop yourself; walk away; take some deep breaths; and possibly wait until a better time (even if it’s the next day) to respectfully handle the situation.