Ethical speech advocates said pledging to avoid gossip one hour a day can make this world a better place.

Launched by New York religious writer Irwin Katsof on Sept. 4 last year, the Words Can Heal campaign is running a series of public service ads in national newspapers, on CNN, ABC, NBC and FOX, along with subway posters in the Washington, D.C., area.

A magazine ad shows a couple fiercely arguing over a map in a convertible in the middle of the desert. The words written above the couple: “Who knew the desert was so beautiful at this time of year.” Get it?
“See, it’s already working,” suggests a catch phrase at the bottom of the ad. Improving our world requires kinder, positive language in day-to-day interaction with others, according to

Funded by private contributions, the campaign promotes ethical speech, defies gossip and builds mutual respect among people across the United States and the world, according to the Web site.

In a nationwide poll conducted by the group last August, 89 percent of people called gossiping a significant problem in schools, at work, in politics and in the media. Even so, a little over 40 percent of those questioned said they participate in gossip at least twice a week.

The campaign managers plan on conducting a second poll to estimate the effect the campaign has had on the nation, Michelle Chandler, campaign director, told She said people of “every age group and ethnicity responded” to the effort, but declined to disclose the numbers.

“In the post-Columbine era we need to reduce gossip and verbal abuse that is behind so much pain in our society,” said Katsof in a news release. “This campaign offers free educational tools for schools, children, families and businesses in order to help heal our country.”

Katsof also heads the Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah, an international network of Jewish educational centers.

The campaign’s Web site lists a few dozen public figures endorsing the effort. Among them are U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., AOL Time Warner Venture Group President Lennert Leader, pop singer Ricky Martin and actors Goldie Hawn, Rene Russo and Tom Cruise. The board of curriculum directors includes a Baptist and a Methodist pastor.

The Words Can Heal curriculum is aimed at promoting positive language in areas most affected by gossip and verbal abuse—in families, schools and at work.

“Bite your tongue when you gossip,” read a chapter in the handbook on workplace ethics, which can be downloaded from the site. “Never take a gossip’s word as fact; there are always two or more sides to a story so check the facts for yourself.”

The site encourages visitors to begin watching their language “one word at a time,” working toward completely eliminating gossip while speaking with kindness.

By submitting a name and an e-mail address, a site visitor can electronically sign a commitment that starts with the words: “I pledge to think more about the words I use. I will try to replace words that hurt with words that encourage, engage and enrich…”

“A harsh word, said in haste, is hard to erase,” according to the site’s family guide on positive language. “Count to ten and think of a way to say it sweetly.”

The site also features links to numerous research articles on communication issues.

Among inspirational words from Euripides, Bernard Shaw Jewish and Turkish proverbs, the site quotes Psalms 34, 12-13: “Who desires life, who loves days of seeing good? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.”

Alex Smirnov is BCE’s research associate.

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