Years ago, when I was in college, I took an undergraduate course in law. I don’t remember much of what I learned, but the concept of criminal negligence has stuck in my mind. The professor pointed out that there are actions that are so thoughtless and inconsiderate of other people’s physical safety and well being that they are viewed as being criminal despite the fact that there was no obvious intent to inflict harm. Hence the legal situation labeled “criminal negligence”.
The professor gave an example of this kind of “uncaring to the point of being against the law.” He spoke of a man who dug a huge pit in an area where people pass by. He did not post any lit warnings, he did not set lights around it, nor did he cover the opening with a metal sheet or put a barrier or fence around it.
During the night, a person out for a stroll fell in and broke his neck.
Another case involved someone shooting his gun into the air. A quarter mile down the road, a woman retrieving her mail was felled by a bullet to her head.
Although the man who dug the pit and the person shooting the gun did not intend to harm anybody, their blatant lack of consideration were viewed by the legal system as being negligent to the point of being criminal.
Sadly, there are people who should know better, who perpetrate what I call “crimes of insensitivity”. Their lack of thought and caring when dealing with other people is reprehensible. The damage they inadvertently inflict is emotional, even spiritual. Sometimes the pain that results is harder to heal than physical injuries.
Case in point: a woman at a simcha is bragging about her darling grandchildren, waving around pictures of smiling babies and grinning toddlers, knowing that there are several women at the table who are childless. Or a young wife is showing off the gorgeous jewelry her husband bought her to her single friends. Or a man shares with his unemployed chavrusa that he got a raise and is going to buy a new car.
It’s unrealistic and unfair to expect people to go around pretending that they don’t have grandchildren or spouses or good things in the lives in order to spare the feeling of those lacking in those areas. But there is a time and place and manner to do so that will not leave the one who is missing these achievements or milestones reeling with a soul-afflicting sense of pain and loss.
If someone single or childless asks how is your new baby, you can thank him or her for asking. If the other party says, “do you have any pictures?” then show them. Sometimes it is hard to rein in your excitement or enthusiasm, but you have to consider whom you are speaking to and give thought to how your words will affect them. Some people will not be negatively affected, and will encourage you to share their lives with them. Others, especially if they are hurting from their inability to achieve their goals like marriage, parnasa, good health or children, may feel emotionally pummeled.
You must take care to put a “fence” around your words so that these vulnerable people do not fall into an emotional pit.
Thee are some people who make a point of “rubbing in ” their good fortune to those who haven’t attained the same achievements. They boast and brag non-stop about their achievements or possessions. It makes them feel superior. These people are to be pitied.
They either possess a lack of self-esteem that propels then make others feel less accomplished, or they are just plain stupid, blissfully oblivious of the sharp sting of their words.
Lashon Hara (negative speech) is not restricted to the uttering of gossip or tale bearing. It includes anything that comes out of one’s month that causes tza’ar – pain or misery and that minimizes another person. With Yom Hadin – the Day of Judgement fast approaching, it might be a good idea to think before you speak, so that the Heavenly Court will be similarly sensitive with you.
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