A famous Chasidic story illustrates the extent of the damage that Lashon HaRa can do: A man went about gossiping and telling malicious stories without restraint. Later, when he realized how much his tales had hurt people, and began to feel remorse. He went to the Rabbi seeking repentance, saying he would do anything he could to make amends. The Rabbi told the man, “Take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers into the wind.” The man thought this was a bizarre request, but it was simple enough, and so he did it. When he returned to inform the rabbi that the task was done, the Rabbi said, “Now, go and collect all the feathers and return them to the pillow.” Again, the man went to do as the rabbi had asked, but found that the feathers had blown far and wide, and he was unable to retrieve even a handful. He returned to the rabbi, ashamed to admit he was not able to gather the feathers, certain that he should never have released the feathers in the first place. Knowingly, the rabbi rebuked him, saying, “Your words are like the feathers: once they leave your mouth, you know not where they will go, and you can never retrieve them back again. It is always wiser to guard your tongue and keep your words to yourself.”
The moral of this story is not only obvious but simple: that which we cannot run about and gather, we should keep to ourselves. The concept of silence has great meaning when we think of words as feathers - light and easy to take flight. When we consider every word with more intent and purpose, then we realize that there are times when we want words to spread, and times when they should stay at bay.
May we have wisdom to know the difference and use our words for creative and good purposes - not to litter and destroy.