Let’s Spend Our Words Wisely

Image: A distracted man. Artwork by (johnhain/pixabay.)

Today a truck bombing ended and altered lives forever in Kabul, Afghanistan:

In one moment, more than 80 lives ended, hundreds of people were wounded and many more were traumatized, in the heart of a city defined by constant checkpoints and the densest concentration of Afghan and international forces. – NYT, May 31, 2017

The Washington Post reports that Jared Kushner built a luxury skyscraper in Manhattan using funds meant for projects in poor, job-starved areas.

The same paper reports that Trump is rolling back more Obama Administration moves, this time to return D.C. area compounds to the Russians.

58,000 people are homeless in L.A. County alone. That’s a 23% jump from last year, according to the L.A.Times.

For the second time this week, a noose was left in a Smithsonian museum – this time at the National Museum of African American History & Culture, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

What are we talking about on Twitter today?

The Twitterers who call themselves #TheResistance are spending a lot of hot air – or hot Tweets – on #covfefe (a typo in a Trump early morning tweet) and on a very bad joke (or tasteless political commentary?) by comedian Kathy Griffin. I’m not going to dignify either with a link. Use Google if you really don’t know what I’m talking about.

I know: it’s a relief to laugh. It’s particularly satisfying to make fun of someone we see as a bully. But when that relief crowds out everything else it has gone too far. When relief sinks to the level of the behavior it protests, what is it?

Earlier this month I posted an article about Humor and Jewish Survival, writing about the use of humor to preserve Jewish sanity through centuries of oppression. Today has set me to thinking about the dark side of humor, “humor” as bullying behavior.

Yes, bullying behavior.

Cruelty is shameful — unless the cruel man can represent it as a … joke. – C.S. Lewis,  The Screwtape Letters, 1947

We have seen this behavior from the President and his supporters, whether it is talk about what should happen to Secretary Clinton or what should have happened to the Obamas. When they are called on the most outrageous stuff, a spokesperson often resorts to talk about “jokes.”


Meanwhile, the world is watching. It watches not just the President and his people, but also the American people. If we are caught up in a narcissistic pursuit of the best bon mot about the President’s typo, we are not expressing sympathy for Kabul, outrage about Kushner and the #TrumpRussia scandal that continues to unfold. We are not expressing concern for the 58,000 homeless of Los Angeles. We are leaving clear evidence that we don’t care about the racism on full display in the Smithsonian.

It certainly looks like we are more concerned with getting laughs on Twitter, or scoring points on the opposition, than with the pursuit of justice or the expression of concern for our fellow human beings. If that is truly the case, then we have sunk to the level of Trump and his ilk.

I know those are harsh words, but we can do better than this. We must do better than this. For some alternative ideas for Twitter and social media use:

  • Spread a news story from a credible journalistic source.
  • Support a candidate who plans to run for the House in 2018 – they’re already out there.
  • Spread news of good citizens doing good things. (Portland, anyone?)
  • Express concern for someone different from myself.
  • Publicise the names of victims of violence.
  • Express support for a journalist doing their job.
  • Tweet some Torah.

Words create worlds. We must ask ourselves daily: What am I creating today?

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

8 thoughts on “Let’s Spend Our Words Wisely”

  1. Rabbi, I so much agree with you on this! I’ve been thinking of it in the context of receiving Torah, when the people said to Moses: “We shall do and we shall hear,” when it would make more sense to hear what we’re supposed to do first, and then do it. It seems that the ancient wisdom is knowing that what we do impacts greatly on what we hear. So when we engage (either actively or passively) in that low level of verbal exchange that you describe, we begin to only hear those voices. That just strengthens the downward spiral that we are caught in, rather than lifting us up to a place of justice and compassion.

  2. always on target, thank Rabbi Ruth! if we wouldn’t reinforce the pointless articles, we would have more time to do the good works

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