Power of Words

The following are excerpts from the book "The Power of Words" by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin from Aish Hatorah. The Chapters are alphabetical, and included here are the Chapters entitled Subjective Response, Self Defense, and It's Your Fault for Taking Offense

Subjective Response -

The laws of onaas dvorim (causing pain with words) are based on the subjective response of the person you are talking to. This means that even if most people you know will not mind if someone says a certain thing to them or speaks to them in a certain way, if the individual you are presently talking to will be distressed, upset, angry, or offended it is forbidden. Therefore you have no right to say something to a sensitive person just because, "I wouldn't mind if anyone would speak to me this way," or "I even feel positive if someone jokes around with me by saying things like that."

Each person uses words in a different way. Because of the different experiences of people throughout their lives, they will be affected differently by various pfrases, expressions, and terms. Whatever causes pain to someone is considered onaas dvorim, even though it would not be considered so when talking to someone else.

Each person is unique. Most people would be bothered by certain comments and not by others. You might think that someone else is foolish for being bothered by some statements, but most likely there are statements, terms, or ways of speaking that would bother you and would not bother this person. Everyone has his vulnerable areas. Even if you are not vulnerable to some forms of onaas dvorim, there are other areas that might bother you greatly. However, even if you truly do not mind anything anyone says to you, you must take the specific reactions of the person you are talking to into consideration.



If someone insults you and you insult him back to prevent him from insulting you, the Sefer Hachinuch (no. 338) states that you have not volated the prohibition against onaas dvorim. ... There is a story about a Torah scholar who was sent a picture of a dog by an anti-semite who tried to insult him in this manner. The Torah scholar sent back a portrait of himself, with a note saying, "You sent me your portrait. Now I am sending you one of me." He cleverly turned around the insult. When a person sees that he is up against an opponent who can outsmart him, he will remain silent.

- Web builder's note - - Try reading The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense by S. Elgin - - ...

"It's Your Fault for Taking Offense" Some people feel that they have a reight to say whatever they wish and that it is up to those who have to hear them to work on themselves not to be hurt by what they hear. "It's not what I say to you that causes you pain," they will say. "Rather, it's the way that you take it. It's your own attitude that is causing you the suffering. Change your attitude and you won't have any problem. Since it's all your fault, I don't need to be careful with what I say to you." Yes, it's true that a person's subjective evaluation of a statement is what causes him emotional pain. But this does not give anyone the right to insult others and claim that they should develop coping skills. If a person does feel pain, even though theoretically he might be able to become oblivious to the negative statements of others, you are forbidden to say anything that will cause him that pain. We need to deal with the actual reactions of any given individual. Do not retionalize your own callousness or thoughtlessness by blaming others for being victims. This is similar to someone who physically harms another person and then says, " It's his own fault his bones got broken. He should have taken a course in self-defense and this would have prevented me from harming him." Anyone can easily see that the perpetrator of the crime is just grasping at straws to absolve himself. He is still guilty of wrongdoing another person. Similarly, with verbal pain. If someone will feel pain because of what you say, you have an obligation to avoid saying it.

back to home page: