What we say and how we say it matters. Torah teaches us that G-d spoke the world into existence. The world was created through words. The rabbis teach us to guard our tongue from lashon hara (evil speech).
I recently watched a video on that very topic which I thought made very good points and made me pause and reflect.
We need to be mindful of what we say and how we react to others. In some cases, that means keeping quiet. In other situations, that means speaking up. I’ll write more about keeping quiet in another column. For now, I’ll focus on speaking up.
The fear of evil speech doesn’t mean we have to remain silent. If we acknowledge the power of words, there are times when we will recognize there are words we need to give to others.
Fred Rogers once said,
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
There are helpers all around us. It may be the friend who helps us keep our sanity by inviting us out when they see we’re stressed out. It may be the stranger who holds the door open for us. It may be the organization that offers us a scholarship. It may be the driver who slows down so you can change lanes. It may be the child who gives you a flower.
There are people all around who are working to change the world both on the large and the small scale. Look for them. Acknowledge them. Speak to them. Thank them.
Our family has a ritual every Thanksgiving where the children and I each pick at least one person who we are particularly thankful for that year. We write or send cards to thank them. There are times when I feel awkward speaking up. It’s so much easier to just stay quiet. Trying to thank someone sometimes involves anxiety about how someone will react and worrying about finding the perfect words, although I’m always happy to have done it. Every time I have, people have been very responsive. They’re usually surprised and always happy to be seen, acknowledged, and appreciated. I have never regretted thanking someone.
There have been times where I felt overwhelmed and people have pulled me aside or messaged me to thank me for something I’ve done. Every single time, I appreciated it so very much. It completely changed my frame of mind. Those words changed me for the better.
Often the thankfulness is from unexpected sources. You can reach out to your parents, best friend, teacher, spouse. So too can you reach out to the person you just met, someone you only know online, a cousin you haven’t spoken to in years. There is no “Thank you” drought. You can use them liberally and in a wide variety of settings.
Sometimes we have difficulties that are beyond our control. It may take us a while to learn something. Rain may delay our plans. We could be stuck in unexpected traffic. Look beyond your own frustration and see those around you who are helping you and working with you. You may be surprised by how many opportunities you have to say, “Thank you for your patience.”
Words have power. The things we say really do matter. We have far less time for evil speech if our mouths are full of affirming words.
“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.”-J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
- How to show gratitude to others during isolation - May 22, 2020
- Ask A Jew: Star of David Mask - May 3, 2020
- Ask A Jew: The Afterlife - April 14, 2020
- Ask A Jew: Gatherings of 10 - March 26, 2020
- Ask A Jew: What is Humanistic Judaism? - March 11, 2020
- Valuing Volunteers: Three Questions to Ask - January 26, 2020
- Ask A Jew: Are Jewish Dietary Laws Outdated? - January 16, 2020
- A List of Greetings for Jewish Holidays For Non-Jews - December 23, 2019
- Sometimes Civility Is A Luxury - October 20, 2019
- Ask A Jew: Tisha B’av - September 2, 2019