Progressively Speaking: Caroline Flack’s death shows why every word matters….
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Progressively Speaking: Caroline Flack’s death shows why every word matters….

Rabbi Mark Goldsmith reflects on a topical issue with a progressive Jewish response

“Empathy and kindness is all we can truly strive towards.” These words were written by TV presenter Stacey Solomon in reaction to the death by suicide of her fellow presenter, Caroline Flack.

You can never know the full reasons and motivations that cause someone to take their own life. It is always a tragic and awful course of action.

In Caroline Flack’s case she had herself written about the sense of being judged unkindly on everything that she did, wore and said in a constant trial by social media.

She was about to stand trial for her alleged assault of her boyfriend in 2019, and the unkindness being meted out to her in the lead up from people who did not know her was relentless.

It was as if being a celebrity with any kind of talent makes you a fair target for anyone who wants to hurt another person.

Our Talmud often cites extreme examples to shock us into good and empathetic behaviour. One of them, cited in Talmud Chullin (94a), gives the example of what unkind thoughtlessness can do even if completely unintentional.

The text cites an incident involving a person who sent a barrel of wine to another person as a gift.

This barrel of wine had oil floating on top of it, probably intended to seal the wine from being tainted by air.

The giver did not explain what the contents were and the receiver invited guests to come and share his good fortune. He intended to give them expensive oil to take home.

He opened the barrel, dipped in beneath the layer of oil, and discovered that it was just cheap wine. In his shame at having deceived them, the receiver hanged himself and died.

How could the giver have known this would be the consequence of his careless gift giving? He couldn’t, and that was the Rabbis’ point.

Always do the kind and empathetic thing, because you never know what might be the consequences of being even the slightest bit unkind.

If only Caroline Flack’s persecutors has followed that principle, and if only those who continue to spread hate on social media and other channels could learn from it and desist.

Rabbi Mark Goldsmith is senior rabbi of Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue

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