DRMacIver's Notebook

Further thoughts on Lashon Hara

Further thoughts on Lashon Hara

Since my last post on Lashon Hara I’ve done a bit more reading, including an English translation of the Sefer Chofetz Chaim (which I don’t particularly recommend), and “Jewish Laws of Speech: Towards a Multicultural Rhetoric” by Erika Falk, which I do.

There has also been an interesting test case of this in the Python community recently, which is njs’s post about Kenneth Reitz. This is unambiguously Lashon Hara (well except in the sense that the concept doesn’t apply because they’re not as far as I know Jewish), and by repeating it and discussing it we’re undoubtedly committing sins of spreading and believing Lashon Hara (same caveats). It turns out I’m OK with this.

The strong impression I get reading the Sefer Chofetz Chaim was that it was a set of norms that was really not very interested in minimizing harm to individuals, but was instead designed to promote community cohesion and conformance. I can see why that would be a useful thing in many contexts, but I don’t think it is a set of structures I’d want to emulate. In particular, I don’t think I could willingly accept the standards of evidence required, which require at least two first hand witnesses before an accusation is to be believed.

It’s an interesting set of norms, and one that I think is worth thinking about when designing community norms, but ultimately I think I will continue to spread Lashon Hara and hope the fact that I’m only a bit Jewish will protect me from any divine retribution that may be forthcoming.

Another thing that was linked to as a result of the Lashon Hara discussions were the three vital questions:

  1. Does this need to be said?
  2. Does this need to be said by me?
  3. Does this need to be said by me now?

I like these much better as a framework to think about limiting your own speech, but will note that I might often find myself answering “No, but it would amuse me to do so, so I will”.