The Chofetz Chaim begins this segment by stressing that many people react incorrectly in cases of negative reports, where the listener needs to reckon with the report and protect himself. While the rules of such cases are complex, the Chofetz Chaim reiterates the basic rule: The Torah allows us only to protect ourselves on the possibility that the information is accurate. Never does the Torah give a person the right to use such information to act against the subject or to cause him a monetary loss. And because the information cannot be accepted as fact (without personal verification), it is absolutely forbidden to harbor any hatred toward that person. Finally, one cannot use the report as an excuse to cancel any obligations toward that person.
The Chofetz Chaim illustrates this last point: A person with an established reputation of being poor is circulating in shul (synagogue) collecting tzedakah (charity) for himself. Your neighbor turns to you and says, “This fellow’s a faker; I hear that he makes more money than we do.” The Chofetz Chaim says that if you decide not to give this man money (without investigation), or to give him less than you normally would, then you are in the category of one who believes loshon hora. For until the man is proven to be a fraud, you have to accord him his original status — that of a poor, upstanding Jew — and to treat him as such.
This is just one small example, says the Chofetz Chaim, of the consequences of accepting loshon hora.
The Chofetz Chaim also deals with a situation where the listener has transgressed by accepting the loshon hora as fact. Now, he regrets his sin. What should he do to rectify it?
The Chofetz Chaim offers a three-point plan:
1. He should strengthen himself and uproot this information from his mind to the point where he no longer believes it.
2. He should accept upon himself to be careful in the future not to accept loshon hora.
3. He should confess his sin (viduy) before Hashem.
The last two of these steps are common to the teshuvah process for any sin. But the requirement that we actually uproot information which we already believe to be true — this seems difficult to navigate.
Rabbi Avraham Pam, z”l, explained how it can be done. He says we must immerse our hearts in the mitzvah of judging people favorably. If you heard that the subject caused hurt to your friend, tell yourself, “I’m sure it didn’t happen exactly as it was reported.” Or, “Perhaps he is going through some personal difficulties. Who knows what I would do in the same situation?” Keep your mind focused like a laser beam on these favorable interpretations and review them again and again. If you flood your thoughts with favorable judgments, you will be amazed to find a gradual change in your thinking take place, as anger gives way to love for your fellow Jew.