The Zohar, a central text of Kabbalah, says:

 תא  חזי  ההוא  מלה  דנפיק  מפומיה  דבר  נש  סלקא  ואתער  אתערותא לעילא  אי  לטב  אי  לביש

Come, see: Every word that comes from a person’s mouth, rises and awakens a response from Above, either for good or for bad. [1]

This was certainly on our minds in the past week, after the shootings in Tucson. Did the negative language used by politicians, especially in the media, contribute or even create this awful event? Was one particular politician to blame, above all others?

A direct statistical correlation might not be easy to demonstrate. But the Zohar — nothing if not a reliable spiritual source for almost 1000 years — tells us that our words do, in fact, have effects — often unintentional and unexpected.  So, even if we can’t empirically demonstrate a connection between negative words and negative actions, I think we have to assume that it’s there, nevertheless. Our greatest traditions and teachers tell us that this is so.

These days, would we dare have soapboxes and debates in Union Square (NYC)? I think it would be too dangerous. Street-fighting — personal insults, hysterical misrepresentations, veiled or overt personal threats, etc. — has replaced fair, impersonal, even if impassioned debate about the issues themselves and about the principles underlying different viewpoints.

We’re becoming a country that no longer knows how to tolerate dissent. Worse — we’re demonstrating to a new generation that there’s no such thing as reasoned debate among adults. They’re growing up thinking that some of our worst behavior is the norm, and that it’ll be expected of them when they enter the verbal arena in a few short years.

They deserve better from us.

We have to draw from this that there’s a better way to argue and debate. But we have to look at ourselves individually as much, if not more, than we look at the politicians and “pundits.”  When we discuss a viewpoint or a person with which/whom we disagree, do we do so without personal insults (stupid, moronic, cretin, traitor, etc.)?

We have to show politicians and pundits that this negative language doesn’t work anymore.

We can start by changing the way we ourselves speak and write.

As American poet Marianne Moore wrote:                                                                                                                           “There never was a war that was
not inward; I must
fight till I have conquered in myself what
causes war…” [2]

The Zohar teaches us that our words create effects. Let us use words to bring peace.


[1] Zohar; Soncino edition; vol. 3, p. 144                                                
[2] Moore, Marianne; “In Distrust of Merits” (poem; 1944)