(I started this blog in early January, 2011. One of the very first pieces I wrote was a response to shootings in Tucson, [1] which I felt were partly a result of the negative language that was used in political disagreements. I’m re-posting it here, edited with references to the current political season.)

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. [2]

At the time of my first posting of this, I asked about the shootings: 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 (and here, I mean 2016), would we dare have soapboxes and debates in Union Square (NYC)? I think it would be too dangerous. Personal insults, hysterical misrepresentations, veiled or overt personal threats, etc. — have 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. Children are 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. (In fact, it even affects their behavior in their own “arena” as children: day-care centers, schools, and so on). 

They deserve better from us.

But at present, I add that the profoundly negative language used in the current campaign is also leaving a deep wound on American society itself. Long after the current election is over, the feeling that there can be no discussion and no peaceful resolution to political differences will not soon heal.

Worse — negativity builds until it bursts out in violence. I think we could be headed there, regardless of who wins the election. 

We have to draw from this that there’s a better way to argue and debate. But we first have to look at ourselves as much as we look at politicians and “pundits.” When we disagree with another person, do we ourselves do so without personal insults (stupid, moronic, cretin, traitor, etc.)?

We have to show politicians and pundits that this negative language won’t work anymore — or will work more to create an ultimate violent outcome that neither side wants. Whatever is gained in the short-term will be lost in the chaos that negative words create.

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…” [3]

The Zohar teaches us that our words create inescapable effects.

But the same principle offers the possibility that we can just as readily use words to heal. 

Let us, then, choose words that bring healing and peace to our country and our world.

Now and always.

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[1] https://rabbielimallon.wordpress.com/2011/01/15/1-15-11-words-and-power

[2] Zohar; Soncino edition; vol. 3, p. 144

[3] Moore, Marianne; In Distrust of Merits (poem; 1944)