Gandhi, a man known for being of both few and many words, a man who minded and cared for words, who preached and advocated for non-violence had something going when he encouraged the following practice…
Pocket an insult, don’t toss it back.
Now, don’t judge it, just take a moment and give me a chance to explain, to contextualize, to lay out some ground rules, to humanize this practice.
Lets be honest. None of us are like Gandhi, and if you are, well, bless you. But I am not, and will never be anywhere close to like him in any sense. I am too impatient, too quick to anger, too quick to become impatient, and far too quick to take an insult to heart, let alone far too quick to insult another. We all do this – we jump to conclusions, we make things up to be more popular and to fit in, we lie, we lie to others to get attention, and when others call out our icky and difficult qualities, we lash out and say truly unkind and horrible things in response, ruining valuable relationships instead of living out Gandhi’s advice.
Ask yourself: when was the last time someone said something to you (called you on your stuff, caught you in a lie, called you on your icky/difficult qualities) and you didn’t pocket it, but instead lashed out and said completely horrible and undeservingly unkind things in response? Could you instead have put your response in your pocket, prayed about the situation, and maybe seen a different side of the person’s perspective, instead of rashly wounding another in your wounded state?
Ok, ok. I know. I might as well be asking you to push a giant spike covered rock up a hill with your least-favorite person. Sure. But what on earth could it hurt? After all, we have all hurt and be hurt, and perhaps it might hurt less to keep your harmful words to yourself, rather than counter hurt with more hurt. After all, think of a time when you were hurt by another’s words, or someone was hurt by your words, and then beat you up as a result. Not so nice, right?
Gandhi is not asking us to take an insult literally, nor is he insisting that we take it personally, or that we ignore it and it will go away. (In the real, adult world, the “ignore it and it will go away” mentality with problems rarely, if ever, works with any real problem…) Instead, it means considering your words and actions before reacting brashly and cruelly toward another person who is giving you their opinion (however harsh or insulting it might seem in the heat of the moment). Consider whether it is worth responding humbly and carefully, rather than hotheadedly and full of smolder.
One of my favorite Hebrew terms is lashon hara (or loshon hora), which is a Halakhic term for derogatory speech against another. In college, I spent a bit of time with this amazing rabbi from Chabad and his family, who taught me a bit of their ways, and this was one of the things that stuck. The roots of this teaching come from the Psalms, and from Psalm 34 in particular, “keep thy tongue from evil.” Essentially, what it boils down to is that each and every word uttered from our mouths is precious and cannot be taken back; thus, every bad and terrible word that comes from a person’s mouth cannot be retracted, and the wound it causes cannot be healed.
Words have permanence in this world, and the wounds they cause do as well. Thus, we should all take pause and attempt to practice Gandhi’s pocketing of an insult, rather than chucking another one out in return, as the Rabbis had it right in understanding that with every insult comes the impulse to throw out yet another. Guard your words, especially when you feel wronged, because you never know how your perspective may change with time, prayer, patience and maturity.
Prayerfully discern how you can practice Gandhi’s pocketing of insults. It will not only better your relationships with others, but also improve your relationship with words, with anger, and with yourself.
Thanks be to the God who constantly gives us the patience to live in community with others, those who challenge us, and those who improve and build us up in the faith.
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