Tired of Gossip

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I know you get this question, or a variation of it, every year. But
please remind your readers about the etiquette of family events like
Seders. Every year I end up embroiled in the post-Seder round robin
conversations between various siblings, nieces, aunts, cousins, etc
critiquing the quality of so-and- so’s cooking, the inappropriateness of
someone’s attire, who said what to whom about what, etc etc etc for
every possible way that one human being can criticize or kvetch about
another. And this in a family that generally gets along and likes one

Tired of Gossip

Dear Tired of Gossip:

The irony of turning a holiday that’s about liberating ourselves from
slavery into enslaving ourselves to criticism is beyond sad. We’re
supposed to be about celebrating the end of 400 years of brick-making
and servitude. Not turning up the heat on those near and dear to us.
I’m reminded of the scene in Avalon, a movie set in Baltimore in the
mid-19th century, about two brothers who feud on a Thanksgiving.
One drives off in a huff while the other screams at him, waving a
drumstick, and they don’t talk for fifty years. (At least that’s how I
remember it.) Imagine 50 years without a sibling. You might smile for
a second after winning a small argument, but it would be a collassal
loss for you and your family.

So here’re the rules for all family events, from Passover through
Chanukah: Thou shalt not criticize others. That includes their cooking,
their clothing, their children, their homes, their cars, their choice of
vacations, or their choice of souvenirs for the meshpochah. Thou shalt
not say anything that can be misinterpreted by someone with a grudge
against someone else. When asked about anyone’s cooking, say, It
isn’t as good as I remember my mother’s but a very interesting new
way of doing that dish. When asked about someone’s atrocious new
sofa or dress say, It’s not my taste but it suits her and seems to be
making her very happy. Express joy for the satisfaction of others. Do
not appear to take any pleasure in the misfortunes, shame, failures, or
other life traumas of anyone in your circle. That’s actually a pretty
good way to improve your adherence to lashon hara, the mitzvah that
proscribes gossip. It’s also a good way to get people to like you more,
relatives or not. Kindness breeds kindness, not rancor.