Words that Hurt, Words that Heal

by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.


I was surfing the channels one evening and I heard the mellifluous voice of Rabbi Telushkin and I stopped to hear what he was talking about. It was a topic I have often told students and others: “Don’t put a person’s name in your mouth unless it if for encouragement or a compliment, otherwise let the person’s boss say what is necessary.” The book the Rabbi was reviewing was one he wrote.


He wants all people reading the book to take a test given by themselves. The test is to go 24 hours without saying any unkind words about, or to anyone. He states: “To ensure the test’s accuracy, make no effort to change the contents of your conversations throughout the next day, and don’t try to be kinder than usual in assessing others’ character and actions. (Note your kind comments as well, but don’t go out of your way to increase them during this test period).”

He relates that the old Jewish teaching related in the epigraph to this book (“My father and my uncle: two men of golden tongues and golden hearts, whose words healed all who knew them.”) compares the tongue to an arrow. “Why not another weapon, a sword, for example?” one rabbi asks. “Because he is told, “if a man unsheathes his sword to kill his friend, and his friend pleads with him and begs for mercy, the man may be mollified and return the sword to its scabbard. But an arrow, once it is shot, cannot be returned.”


As we monitor how often we say needlessly critical, hurtful and even cynical things about and to the people around us. Even if we are unhappy with the results don’t be discouraged. The way you speak is something we can change. And if you’re willing to make the effort, we can start changing quickly. Today.


Perhaps the most surprising thought we will learn is the extent to which control over your tongue, accompanied by the practice of healing speech, will not only change for the better the lives of all those with whom we interact but change your own life as well. This is not an exaggeration. Healing words both those we direct toward others and those directed toward us create courage. Courage creates vision. With vision and courage, we become unafraid to take risks and are willing to hold on to our vision and wok toward it. This in the final analysis is what shapes our destiny.


Of course, it is wrong to tell a lie when your goal is not to avoid inflicting pain, bit to secure a personal advantage (the very reason so many lies are told). For example, it is wrong to make a big show of inviting someone to be your guest when you know that he will refuse,