When Mr. Storch wanted to make a point in his classroom, he used the most powerful words he could conjure up so that all present would understand his intent. If he was happy about a student’s behavior, the compliment was overwhelming; perhaps another student who heard his awesome praise might be prompted to improve in hopes of receiving accolades from the teacher. However, if a student did something that upset Mr. Storch, his wrath was quick and powerful.
“You’re acting like an animal, young man!” he might say. “I’m not going to allow anything but human beings in my class. Leave now and report to the principal’s office!”
The victim of his verbal abuse suffered immediate embarrassment in front of his peers by being compared to an animal, but the long-term effect was much more damaging. When a person of authority harshly denigrates, the subject of the criticism may be injured psychologically forever. “Eating like a pig” or “deceiving like a snake” and other comparisons to sub-human creatures give the victim a negative view of self. This, all-too-often, develops into low self-esteem. The temporary positive effect of the “shock treatment” will not be long-lasting and won’t change the subject or prompt a desire to improve. Instead, low self-image will prevent spiritual growth.
The Torah not only prohibits using words to hurt another; it also expects that when criticism is in order, one will use a mild form of rebuke. The criterion should be, “What’s the minimum I can say to effect positive results?” There is no need for a nuclear missile when a pistol will do.
When you are about to criticize, ask yourself, “What do I want to accomplish?” Then choose the words that will best help you achieve your good intentions.
One More Second: Another Thought for the Day
Yesterday you might have had difficulties dealing with a situation, but today is a new day. Perhaps today things will go better. Yesterday you might have felt discouraged, but today look at life anew and try once more. Yesterday you could not overcome some of your faults, but perhaps today you will be successful. (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, Gateway to Happiness, p. 144)