Zenon Fernandez recently went to trial in Miami. A jury found him guilty of manslaughter with a deadly weapon. Fernandez had been shooting off a round of bullets to celebrate the New Year. His revelry was short-lived.
Fernandez fired into a discarded old couch that was by a garbage bin near his apartment complex. He did not know that an 11-year-old boy was hiding behind the furniture. The child was playing a game of hide-and-seek. He was hit by the bullets and bled to death. Fernandez never meant to hurt anyone.
Fernandez ruined many lives, including his own. He meant no harm, yet caused plenty. Reckless disregard for the consequences of our actions can and does have terrible repercussions.
Barbs can be lethal. They can come from guns and bows. They can also come from our mouths. Bullets and arrows can maim and murder. Words can ruin a reputation or destroy a friendship or kill a business deal.
Shooting off one’s mouth can be as dangerous as shooting off a round of ammunition and it really doesn’t matter if the shooter meant “no harm.” He should have been more careful.
We are told that to embarrass a person in public is a grave sin and that bringing blood to his face (making him blush) is tantamount to shedding his blood. Human nature makes it all too easy to disregard this warning.
The effects of our speech can be far reaching. A child disparaged by an impatient rebbe can turn away from religion. A teenager teased about her weight can develop a life-threatening eating disorder. An employee humiliated by the boss’s tirade can lose all confidence. We have all heard horrific stories of youngsters who have been bullied and taunted, and who, in desperation, commit suicide.
It is easy to blame Zenon Fernandez. His victim lay dead in a pool of blood. The injury of lashon hara (evil gossip) is on the inside. Its effects are not as easy to detect.
Yes, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can and do hurt me. We all need to be more careful and make sure there is no one in our line of fire.