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04/05/2022 01:38:41 PM


The question of how to live a good life

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. (The Book of Proverbs, 18:21)
The question of how to live a good life is at the heart of the book of Proverbs, a collection of timeless sayings. (Our final class this year on Proverbs is on April 12.)  One of the themes that runs throughout the book is the challenge of choosing our words wisely, such as the proverbs: "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (15:1); "A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit" (15:4); and "The words of the wicked are a deadly ambush, but the speech of the upright delivers them" (12:6). The book challenges us to manage our speech well, since "death and life are in the power of the tongue."
As the entire world knows, at the 2022 Academy Awards ceremony on March 27, comedian Chris Rock introduced the award for Best Documentary. Addressing Jada Pinkett Smith, an actress in the audience, Rock said, "Jada, I love ya. G.I. Jane 2, can't wait to see ya."  G.I. Jane was a 1997 film in which actress Demi Moore shaved her head to play a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. Pinkett Smith recently shaved her head as part of her battle against alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that can cause hair loss and bald spots. It is not clear whether the comedian knew of this diagnosis.
Pinkett Smith's husband, actor Will Smith, laughed from the audience. But then he got up from his seat, took the stage and smacked Rock across the face. "Oh wow," said Rock, clearly shocked. After returning to his seat, Smith called out, "Keep my wife's name out your… mouth."
"Wow, dude, it was a G.I. Jane joke," said Rock, after which Smith repeated his demand that Rock not speak of his wife. Smith went on to win Best Actor for his performance as the father of Venus and Serena Williams in the film King Richard.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences soon issued a statement on Twitter that said, "The Academy does not condone violence of any form. Tonight we are delighted to celebrate our 94th Academy Awards winners, who deserve this moment of recognition from their peers and movie lovers around the world."
In a statement, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) said that Rock had not filed a police report against Smith. Although the LAPD reported that it was aware of the incident, the statement went on to say, "The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report." 
After receiving his Oscar for Best Actor, Smith compared himself to his character Richard Williams as a "fierce defender of his family." The actor then addressed the incident directly, saying, "I want to apologize to the Academy. I want to apologize to all my fellow nominees." He failed to mention Rock. Smith went on to say, "I look like the crazy father. Just like they said about Richard Williams. But love will make you do crazy things." 
The next day, Smith apologized to Rock via Instagram, saying, "My behavior at last night's Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable. … I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong." 
Another provocative phrase was spoken on March 26 by President Joe Biden, in an off-the-cuff remark in Poland during a trip to rally support for Ukraine following the Russian invasion. At the end of a fiery speech in Warsaw, President Biden surprised many when he seemed to endorse regime change in Russia, saying that Vladimir Putin "cannot remain in power."
Biden's words led to a huge reaction, particularly among foreign policy figures and members of the media. Some people cheered; others booed. The White House then tried to clarify what the President meant.

The exact meaning of the President's words will continue to be debated, along with discussion of how they do (or do not) compare to provocative presidential statements from the past. On March 28, President Biden told reporters that his comments in Poland reflected his anger about Putin's "brutality." He said, "I wasn't then, nor am I now, articulating a policy change. I was expressing moral outrage that I feel, and I make no apologies for it."
We may not be famous comedians or POTUS, but make no mistake: speaking is part of being human, and all of us are going to have slips of the tongue. I would add that provocative words by celebrities and political leaders are useful in helping us to understand how our words have a powerful impact on people around us.
Some questions:
When have you witnessed the power of words to incite violence or cause destruction? What were the long-term effects on the people or the communities involved?
2. The Bible – and the High Holy Day prayer book -- contain warnings about gossip, lying, and slander. What types of speech are most dangerous, in your opinion? Where do you find guidance for choosing your words wisely? 
3. In the incident at the Academy Awards, it was unclear whether Chris Rock was making a playful comment or delivering an insult. What difference does the intent of the speaker make, if any? How could Will Smith have better managed his anger, in your opinion?
4. Online messages are often misunderstood since they lack the cues that come from tone of voice or body language. What can be done to improve the clarity of messaging in our high-tech world? How can we de-escalate the conflicts that often arise?
Life and death may not be in the power of the tongue, but the power is no less mighty than it was when the Bible was written. We all could be more careful.

Sun, February 5 2023 14 Sh'vat 5783