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Words Can Heal - 2001-09-05

A new national campaign to reduce verbal violence and gossip and to promote the value of ethical speech has taken to the airwaves and the Internet.

It is called Words-Can-Heal, and its purpose is both idealistic and practical.

The campaign grew out of an opinion poll taken by Aish HaTorah, a Jewish organization that focuses on moral teachings. Co-director Irwin Katsof says the survey indicated that Americans of all backgrounds were so deeply concerned about the effects of verbal violence and gossip that the Jewish group set up a separate organization to deal with the problem.

Mr. Katsof said, "We were absolutely amazed when we saw how many people responded, not just from the Jewish community, but across the board. That prompted us to launch a new national organization to focus the whole American people on the issue of gossip and verbal violence."

Mr. Katsof says subsequent polling found nearly 90-percent of the American people believe that gossip and verbal violence is a major issue in society. Parents are particularly concerned about the impact verbal violence is having on children.

Recent studies by the "Journal of the American Medical Association" and the Department of Education have found that an alarmingly high number of young people experience bullying at school. The National Education Association, a teachers' labor organization, reports 160,000 children skip school every day because they are afraid of being intimidated by other students.

Mr. Katsof says the first step toward eliminating gossip and verbal abuse is to call attention to it and the harm it causes. He said, "It used to be that we said 'sticks and stones will break my bone, but names will never hurt me.' You heard that growing up. It is not true. Names do hurt. The ego-shattering criticism, that back-biting criticism, someone putting us down in public. Someone saying 'You are no good. You are stupid. You are fat. You will never amount to anything.' Those are tapes that every single one of us have running through our heads."

Words-Can-Heal is launching a nationwide television and newspaper campaign, urging people to take a pledge to avoid verbal abuse and gossip.

I pledge to think about the words I use.
Gossip hurts, people, including myself.
I will work to eliminate it from my life.
I will try to replace words that hurt with words that encourage, engage and enrich.
I will not become discouraged because making the world a better place is hard work.
I am pledging to do that.
One word at a time.
One word at a time.

The pledge can also be found on the group's website, words can The website provides information on the issue and tips on how to deal with gossip and verbal abuse