Photo Credit: Jewish Press

How does one communicate with people? What are the most effective ways and why should one be preferred over the other?

I always advised my teachers that when they had something important to convey, either to a parent or to me as the principal of the school, they should do so face-to-face. It is important to be able to see reactions and body language, to understand emotions and what is really behind the words that are being uttered – and to be able to look into the eyes of the person you are speaking to and empathize with their pain or share in their happiness. There is no substitute for this kind of direct communication.

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The next best way – though certainly in the class of undesirable – is phone communication. There at least one can hear the inflection of the other person’s voice and there is give and take. The drawback of this method is that people often say inappropriate words when they have that receiver in their hand, words that would probably not be said had there been a face-to-face exchange.

Years ago, when technology was not as advanced as it is today, written letters were used as the primary method of correspondence. Because of distance, letters were not just flimsily composed. Usually authors would read and re-read their letters to be sure that their words were accurately understood. The process was arduous, and one often waited weeks if not months for a response.

With the advent of the Internet, however, our generation has entered into a period of instant communication. Ostensibly this way of corresponding would seem the most efficient and best, but in my estimation it represents the worst type of interaction. While emails or Twitter or Facebook are used to get the message out quickly and, if used properly, can alert parents in a school of an impending program, announcement, or emergency, on a personal level these formats often remove the level of responsibility and accountability from the people who are writing. Often they are angry at a situation – whether personal or school-related – and they make accusations based on their anger without clear forethought as to the repercussions and the hurt generated by their words. It’s easy – one click and the message is sent.

When I receive such messages, I often phone the person and arrange a face-to-face meeting which, more times than not, ends with an apology for sending the message. I often told my teachers that, except for just informational items, electronic communications to parents should never be used.

I understand the reasoning of some families who opt not to have Internet at all in their homes. The temptation of writing and receiving hurtful emails and viewing websites that are unbecoming and harmful, and the ability to be involved in destructive forces without any consequences at all in the confines of one’s home is too easy. One gets the feeling that he or she is all alone and there are no consequences for their actions. But the opposite is the case. By using the Internet one can destroy another person and can cause irreparable damage. Cases have been recorded of children and even adults who were driven to taking their own lives after being bullied online.

Lashon hara and unacceptable words are a serious issue amongst our people. The famous adage of “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never harm me” is not true in Judaism. Words count! Words can destroy! We are commanded to be careful at all times with our words. We owe it to ourselves to be extra vigilant when using these modern tools of communication which, although they may have worth, could also nevertheless cause devastating and irreversible hurt and pain.

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Rabbi Mordechai Weiss has been involved in Jewish education for the past forty-six years, serving as principal of various Hebrew day schools. He has received awards for his innovative programs and was chosen to receive the coveted Outstanding Principal award from the National Association of Private Schools. He now resides in Israel and is available for speaking engagements. Contact him at ravmordechai@aol.com or 914-368-5149.