Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Two Hours

I am participating in a "machsom le'fi." A machsom le'fi is when a group of 12 friends take a two-hour period each day (for forty days) and agree not to speak or listen to lashon harah (gossip, evil speech) or engage in any sort of nivul peh (cursing, talking dirty, mocking, etc.) during this time period, as a merit for someone who is ill. I am very into self-improvement, especially when it comes in manageable chunks like this. Two-hours! Hah. Bring it on. I can do two hours, baby. Two lashon harah-free hours is NOTHING.

My two hour daily time slot is from 4-6 p.m.. My first day was yesterday. Holy moly. What did I sign up for?

You cannot watch tv, listen to the radio, read newspapers, magazines, or most secular books during this time. Pretty much impossible to avoid nivul peh from any of these mediums, and if there is anything remotely news related, you run into the danger of lashon harah. Talking on the phone was absolutely out. Blogging was out. Reading blogs was out. Checking email was DEFINITELY out. Actually, 99% of my daily communication-related activities were out.

I decided to run on the treadmill for 45 minutes. Usually, I listen to a playlist of my favorite rock music or catch up on podcasts when I run. That was surely out. I listened to a downloaded shiur instead. The shiur was a little dry and didn't give me the rhythm I needed to really pound out a full interval running session, so I stopped after a half hour. Showering and dressing took another 20 minutes. I walked my dog (without my Ipod or phone, which I usually take with me) for another half hour and met someone I knew, whom I quickly greeted and walked away from, muttering "in a rush" with a goofy smile. I got home. I had another 40 minutes to kill. I learned two halachot of lashon harah, which was a recommended part of the program. That took about 5 minutes. I cleaned my bathroom and started an early dinner, which took up the remaining time.

So here's what I learned from Day 1 of machsom le'fi:

1. My life is filled, FILLED with ongoing lashon harah and nivul peh. Everywhere I turn, I engage in activities that inevitably lead down these roads.
2. On the flip side of this, it is very, very difficult to lead a modern life that is lashon harah-free. You have to isolate yourself from everything. It feels detached and unrealistic
3. When I looked for activities to fill my two-hours, I actually became productive. I exercised, learned, walked, cleaned and took the time to cook a healthy meal. I've become aware of how much time I waste doing unproductive things. A lot.

It got me thinking. Am I just leading such a wasteful life, so steeped in lashon harah and nivul peh that I'm not even aware of it anymore? Or is a life free of these things simply beyond the reach of ordinary people like me? Can you lead a normal, lashon harah-free existence and still be in touch with the world?


Nice Jewish Guy said...

Interesting. I'm not sure that News would qualify as loshon hara or nivul peh. Depends on what, of course- celebrity gossip is obviously lashon hara, but world politics may not be.

As for music and TV, there are plenty of songs that are clean of any suggestive language, and plenty of movies without znus or nivul peh. Why don't you make yourself a playlist and select a few videos for this time period?

Kudos to you for your self-improvement efforts.

WebGirl said...

You would think that most news would be okay, but then there is the whole issue of news about Israel that might criticize its citizens or government, or our latest government sex scandal or how our economy has tanked because of the greed mongers on Wall Street.

Name a movie made in the last fifty years for adults without znus or nivul peh. Name one.

See that's the thing. It's EVERYWHERE.

smoo said...

I posted on this a while back. Here is the short of it:

Gossip. It is ubiquitous and exists in every culture in every generation. No matter that it be vilified, it thrives on people’s obsessive, uncontrollable desire to not only know other people’s business but to actively perpetuate the tale. I return once again to Pascal Boyer who describes this phenomenon as an obvious outgrowth of who we are as humans. Human society is dependent upon information and cooperation. Much of the information we process regards OTHER people’s mental states (thoughts, actions, beliefs, desires, etc.) and we keep mental files about everyone we know. Gossip is information about others (usually that they prefer not be known). It centers on adaptive values like sex, resources, status and conformity. Gossip is our quest to acquire strategic information and we in turn spread gossip to advertise that WE are trustworthy with information and thus cooperative within a social context! Contemptuous as it may be, it’s a fact of life and there is no escaping unless you detach yourself from society, which is a fate far worse for social creatures than being maligned. Sooner or later the conversation shifts to someone else.

AJ said...

As to your challenge to name one movie without znus or nivel peh, I think "Searching for Bobby Fischer" qualifies. And it's one of my favorite movies!

Nice Jewish Guy said...

Oh, WG, come on. Almost anything with a 'PG' rating, and certainly anything rated 'G'. All Pixar's stuff, most Disney. Let's not be nuts here. And there's plenty of music too. I'm not going to go searching and list them for you, you're perfectly capable of doing that.