Onas Devarim. That is a crazy sounding term. What does it mean?
Take a look.
One day your friend came to school in an ugly sweater. But it wasn’t just ugly. It was the ugliest sweater in the world. It was so ugly; you stopped and looked at it twice. “Wow. That is an ugly sweater,” you thought. “Yuck.” It was three types of plaid. It was furry. It was stringy. It looked like it smelled funny. It was bad.
“Nice sweater,” you said. “Did your seeing-eye dog dress you this morning?”
Ouch. That wasn’t nice.
And it gets worse. Your friend didn’t want to wear it. She hates it. Her grandmother made it. Her mother forced her to wear it. (“Make grandma happy. Wear the sweater.”) They had a big fight about it this morning.
How did you feel? Terrible? Did you want to crawl in a cave and die? I bet you did.
That is Onas Devarim. It is when you say something mean.
Words are powerful. They sting like bees. They cut like knives. And when you say something mean, uncaring, nasty, insensitive, or unthinking it hurts. It hurts a lot. Words make people cry. Words make people mad. Words make people feel bad, unloved, stupid, small, wrong, and out of place.
But words do the opposite, too.
Words make people feel good. Words make people happy. Words make people feel loved, smart, big, right, and as if they belong. You can help a person with words. And you can change the way he feels.
Do you get it?
Words are neutral. They are tools. A word is like a hammer. You can hit someone with it. Or you can fix a wall with it. How you use it is up to you. Use your words to help people. Use them to make people feel good. Use them to show how nice and special and smart you are.
And use them to make people happy.
When your friend wears an ugly sweater, make her feel good. Tell her you like it. And if you can’t think of a nice thing to say, don’t say anything.
Avoid Onas Devarim. And use your words to make people feel good.