Q: I work as the personal secretary of a principal in a large educational institution. My job entails sitting in on staff meetings where I listen to criticism and problems regarding students and staff members.
The heter for discussing these issues in the presence of all meeting participants is the constructive purpose of deducing lessons for the future. But this isn’t always so. I think that in some cases participants use the meeting as a springboard for unburdening themselves concerning their personal difficulties in our institution, or to shift the blame of mishaps, or underachievement, to others.
I leave these meetings with the feeling that I have transgressed serious issurim of lashon hara, and I’d like to receive guidance on how to avoid this in the future.
A: Meetings in educational institutions are held for the purpose of improving chinuch methods, and to deduce lessons from past failures. A secretary, like any other staff member, is part of the cohesive unit of workers whose job it is to improve and help in the lofty task of chinuch. All staff members are therefore required to attend meetings. They are, however, obligated to be vigilant against forbidden speech with no constructive purpose.
The principal or secretary must change the subject when a staff member raises a topic which includes negativity with no toeles. In addition, at the start of every meeting, it is fitting that you announce that forbidden speech without constructive purpose must be avoided.
When participants try to shift their blame to others, it is often unclear at the start where the discussion is heading, and if it is l’toeles or not. In such cases it would be permissible to listen (without believing, and only to be meichish), but as soon as it becomes clear that there is no relevant purpose in the talk, the principal and her assistants must end the conversation and go on to other topics.
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