A few years ago I signed up for the daily email that one can receive from the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation that shares the Chofetz Chaim's insights and writing about Loshon Hora -- forbidden speech. I even bought the book Chofetz Chaim: A Lesson A Day from Artscroll. The teachings are truly an amazing collections of insights and recommendations on how to see the power of language for good and for bad.
This is the definition of Lashon Hora from the first day of these teachings:
Loshon Hora (lit. evil talk) is defined as information which is either derogatory or potentially harmful to another individual. A derogatory statement about someone is loshon hora, even if it will definitely not cause that person any harm. To focus on the shortcomings of another person is itself wrong.
A statement that could potentially bring harm to someone – be it financial, physical, psychological or otherwise – is loshon hora, even if the information is not negative.
(It should be noted that the term loshon hora refers even to true statements which are derogatory or harmful. Negative statements that are untrue or inaccurate are termed hotzaas shem ra, slander.)
I remember when I read this for the first time, I couldn't help but think that nearly EVERYTHING I read in the newspaper or on the news would seemingly fall in this category. And when I looked at myself, I was astonished to recognize how often the things I would say about someone were negative or somehow drawing attention to shortcomings. The teachings in this area from the entire tradition, which the Chofetz Chaim relied on, are a powerful antidote to all the angry and mean and hurtful language that surrounds us.
Another important issue regarding speech is addressed in the tractate Nedarim, which as I mentioned above was begun today by those following on the daf yomi cycle. The tractate is about vows (nedarim).
Recently, I have slacked off on keeping up with the cycle, but thought I would make a new start with this tractate and as I was listening to the shiur from DVDShas the rabbi made the point that one of the messages of the tractate is about the simple power of our words to commit one to certain actions and prohibitions. I look forward to learning all I can from Chazel on this topic.