Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Sat 2/15/2003 6:11 AM
Random Thought: Guard My Tongue From Evil

I didn't go walking this morning. Haven't been on the pre-dawn streets for a few days. Grounded. Just because of some silly sniffles. And, though my angelic boss is away in Charlotte because of a family emergency, she left strict orders that I dare not disobey. She has hers spies. With all the viral crud that is ravaging the University like the Black Plague, I'm indoors when I'm not on campus. When I tried to protest that the sniffles were nothing, I got a glass of orange juice loaded with echinecea and a silent laser stare. And, I responded with a submissive and meek and obedient, "Yes, ma'am.".

So, here I am. Alone, confined to the house, with a less than consoling cup of freshly brewed coffee as company. I have to admit that in itself wasn't enough to ground my spirit. I have been soaring high for over a week. About ten days ago, during what we call the "Picasso Project"--a new one I am experimenting with--there occurred in class what I would describe as one of those mysteriously miraculous "What was that?" "Wow, "I want more of that!" "Let's celebrate!!" moments.

The spirit was about to grab me and I was feeling that dance step in my fingers when I made the mistake of opening my mail box and I began to read what seemed to be the opening chapters of a long lost Dickens novel, "A Valentine's Carol." This "bah, humbug" mesage that hit me the wrong way. On this morning after Valentine's day, I opened my mailbox to receive a very "unvalentine card" addressed to me. As I read it, I thought maybe Cupid had put the wrong stuff on the tip of his arrow. The message was from a professor who started her message with an abrupt "You always think the best of students and that they each have such potential. Well, let me show you...." She went on with a list of "they can't write" student mistakes on an essay test she had just graded. You know, it was one after another of those "....according to students" bloopers that we all love to find in student's words or actions and can't wait to share. Maybe it was the juxaposition between what had happened to a self-described "nothing little girl" who started growing into an "important tall woman" in class and the not so subtle ridiculing, sarcastic and self-righteous "Look who they're letting in these days" and a groaning "why me" tone of this professor's heart-missing message.

Anyway, the "soaring miracle" will have to wait since this unloving message sent me "sore-ing."

This professor's message sent me back to synagogue last night. The central prayer of the Sabbath service is called the Amidah, the silent devotional. It ends with a not-so-gentle reminder and admonition that begins with these words: "Oh, Lord, Guard my tongue from evil, and my lips from speaking guile." I've heard those words and have spoken them in open refrain for many a decade. This morning I suddenly saw their meaning.

There is a folk tale about a man who bloopered someone. Feeling guilty, he came to the rabbi to ask how he could be repentant and take back his words and the harm they've done.

"That's a tough one," said his rabbi.

"There must be something I can do?

"Let me think."

A donation?

"Let me think!"

"What if I go to the person and beg forgiveness, and tell him what I've been saying about him behind his back?"

The rabbi thought for few minutes. "Tell you what, go home and bring me a feather pillow."

"Whatever you tell me to do," replied the bewildered man.

When he returned, the rabbi told him to take it outside, climb the nearby hill, and tear it open in the wind. "Once you've done that, come back."

The even more bewildered man did as he was told and returned thinking that in some way the feathers acted as some strange ritual act of contrition.

"What happened when you ripped the pillow open?" asked the rabbi.

"What do you think?" the man exclaimed. "The feathers flew all over the place and scattered in every direction."

"They sure did, didn't they." said the rabbi. "Now, I want you to go outside, collect all the feathers--every last one of them--put them back into the pillow, and then bring it to me as if you have never torn it open."

"But that's impossible," said the man. "Now there's no telling where all those feathers are."

"Then, I'm sorry. I cannot help you."

There's go getting around it. Understand, that bloopering is speaking evil, and that it falls under the category of gossip and slander. Yeah, we've all done it, me included. And, we all excused it. Nevertheless, conscious or otherwise, it is a deliberate act of speaking guile. Insults, ridicule, jest, or anything that might cause another person harm, embarrassment or displeasure all are. As a caveat to her description of her students, maybe knowing there something amiss about what she was writing, this professor, trying to get out of it as we all do, said as an introduction, "Now, I believe in students, but..."

There is that neutralizing, mind-closing, discouraging, inflexible, unexciting "but." It says, "erase what I just said." Let's be honest. By saying things like "I was only joking," or "I didn't mean anything by it," or "It's innocent and harmless humor," or "It's was nothing," or "I did the same thing myself," or "I wouldn't mind if someone said that about me," or "I'm not laughing at" are only forms of self deceit. It is something; it is not a random act of lovingkindness. It wasn't joking around; you did mean something by it. It isn't innocent or harmless; it's sinful and harmful. Sure, you're laughing at someone, and don't tell me you would love to be the butt of laughter. It is all the evil tongue. None of it is said in delight. None of it is said as paens of praise. It's all said with a moan at someone's expense.

I know. Some are you are going to tell me to relax, stop being so uptight, get a life, and stop being so serious. Well, I am talking about life, someone's life. And, I don't apologize for being serious about something serious. Beware, what this professor and most of us have done is so dangerous. It insidiously dangerous because these very intentional destructive verbal predators are so easily disguised as innocent lambs. It is dangerous because it is roadkill, diseased carrion, that you ingest as if it were aged filet mignon. It is dangerous because the more you do it, the less you are. And, before you go off bloopering a students, remember something the sages said. There are three things for which a person is punished in this world and forfeits his position in the world to come. They are idolatry, sexual immorality, and murder; but an evil tongue is equal to all three put together! The sages also say that, the evil tongue destroys three people: the one who says the evil, the one who listens to it, and the one spoken about; and the one who listens to the evil tongue will be hurt more than the one who speaks with the evil tongue

No, we can't use the frailities, or foibles of a student--or even of colleague, administrator, staff person--for our entertainment, idle enjoyment, or self-inflation. Words make reality. It doesn't make sense. We wouldn't put garbage in our mouths. So why do we put garbage in our ears and let it poison our hearts and minds? Such denigration only douses the sacred spark in ourselves and in each of those around us. It only shuts our eyes to wonder. It deadens our taste and prevents us from savoring. It's as nourishing as fast-food. It forces us to plod lead-footed. We restrict our own boundaries. It makes us smaller. And with each wagging of an evil tongue, we ritualize all this purposelessness and meaninglessness.

I mean if you see something broken, fix it. If you see someone lost, help them find their way. If you see something that need to be done, do it--unless you really don't want to be bothered doing any of that.

I dare us all, me especially, to see if we can make through a day without talking in such a hurtfulabout a student--and a colleague, and a staff person, and an administrator. See if we can make through a day without playing with someone else's name or image. Just remember, every word we utter, continues to float on the wind like a feather long after we have shredded the pillow and walked down the hill.

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
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