"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me." In our hearts, we know this is untrue. But do we really act as if we know how much damage our words can cause? When we speak about others, when we gossip about their lives, their character, whether they are public figures or intimate friends, can't our words cause irreversible damage? When we speak to our children, don't our words resonate throughout their lives, determining how well they will think of themselves and how well they will speak of others? When we express excessive anger at our partners, don't we block the path toward love? But how can we know when we have crossed the line? The wisdom to know how to choose our words so that they will build bridges, rather than erect barriers, to understanding has been sought by writers, philosophers, and religious leaders throughout history, from the biblical sages to modern thinkers. The anonymous author of a medieval text spends pages warning of the great evils routinely committed in speech: "With the tongue one can commit numerous great and mighty transgression, but," he adds, "with the tongue one can also perform limitless acts of virtue." In "Words That Hurt, Words that Heal", Joseph Telushkin brings to bear his extraordinary knowledge of these texts, along with his special gift for rendering their inherent good sense and insight into an accessible, systematic, and surprising lesson on how our words often cross the boundary from communication into destruction. What do we jeopardize when we gossip about our hosts even as we partake of their hospitality? What do we lose by the public shaming of political figures when these revelations are irrelevant to the quality of their service? Toward what end do we criticize anther even when nothing can be changed? Often, it seems, we are more interested in chewing over the fact that so-and-so is having an affair, was fired from his job, or filed for bankruptcy than in discussing how loyal an employee, how fine a spouse, how good a friend that person is. With words it is so easy for you to turn good into bad. As powerful as the capacity of words to hurt is their power to heal and inspire. In a time of ever-growing moral complexity, more and more people are searching their souls, really looking inward and asking themselves, "What, as a citizen and private individual, do I value and how is it manifest in my behavior, in what I do, in how I speak, in what I expect of others? How can I know what's right; how can I change?" "Words That Hurt, Words that Heal" will rivet the reader with the clarity of its observations, the breadth of its scholarship, the narrative and intellectual richness of its answers, and the practicality of its conclusion. It will draw your attention to subtleties of speech you may never have considered before.
by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
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