Ok, I like to think I’m fairly smart. I know I’m not Einstein or Foucault or Tessla, but I generally can read the news and understand what’s going on. But I do not understand Tom Smith, GOP Senate candidate. When asked, at the Pennsylvania Press Club, about his views on abortion and rape, he mentioned that he had gone through a similar situation, comparing pregnancy from a rape to having a child out of wedlock (see the video here).
I’m trying to give Mr. Smith the benefit of the doubt and believe that this was a poorly thought out, spur of the moment answer, and that what he really meant was simply that a baby is a product of both instances, end similarity. I want to believe that this is what he wanted to say. I want to believe that he sees no similarity between fooling around in the back of a Chevy and being raped other than that sperm and egg may come together in either case.
He asks us to see the situations from a father’s point of view, so that we will understand how they are similar. I have to say, I asked my father and it would never occur to him to attribute any similarities to the two situations. It would NEVER come out of his mouth. So regardless of whether Mr. Smith’s comment was thought out or not, I have to wonder about a man who could have these words come out of his mouth.
Judaism teaches powerful messages on the damage that speech can do. There are intense debates on what kind of speech is damaging and under what circumstances a certain kind of speech may be said. We have names for types of wrong speech — Lashon hara (for derogatory speech about another person), hotzatt shem (spreading lies about a person), rechilut (gossiping) to name a few.
Now, Mr. Smith’s speech does not clearly fall into any of these categories, but that does not mean it isn’t damaging, whether he intended it to be or not. To put out there this comparison means being responsible for the ways in which it harms. It means understanding that some women are going to see this as a suggestion that they are culpable in the event of their own rape, just as they might be if they had pre-marital intercourse. It means understanding the fear that has been put into the hearts of girls and women who are already struggling to approach their own fathers about their situations.
However much I agree or disagree with Mr. Smith, I cannot believe that these are things he meant to have happen. I cannot believe a father would intentionally put fear into the hearts of other men’s daughters. I cannot believe he intended to do the harm he did.
For the most part, none of us do. When we speak, we mean to be funny. We speak off the cuff. We throw out thoughts without thinking of the consequences. We are snarky and sarcastic, because it makes people laugh. We don’t think about who might over hear us, about who we are harming with our little jokes and ill-conceived statements. Harder than the kosher laws, harder than the Sabbath requirements — the requirements of right speech call us to parse every word, to imagine every consequence. Over and over again, we fail at these tasks.
The joy of right speech though, is that we are constantly given another go at getting it right. We can improve every time we open our mouths. Every day, every hour, every minute that we speak we are given an opportunity to guard our tongues, think before speaking, and anticipate the pain we might be causing others.
I’m not sure why Mr. Smith said what he said, and I am sorry that his ill-spoken comment will cause the damage it is causing — both to Mr. Smith himself, and to the people who heard and are dealing with it. But in some ways I am glad. It is a reminder towards right speech that we all deeply need, and one I hope Mr. Smith (along with the rest of us) will take deeply to heart.