Speech: Handle with Care by Aviva Meshwork
A tale from the early life of Thomas Edison has been journeying through the internet, making a recent pit stop in my email. I tend to get a lot of emails with inspiring content, however, this one had such an impact on me that I had to share it with my JWRP sisters!
As a small child, Thomas Edison came home from school one day and gave a piece of paper to his mother. He said to her, “Mom, my teacher gave this paper to me and told me only you are to read it. What does it say?”
Her eyes welled with tears as she read the letter out loud to her child.
“Your son is a genius. This school is too small for him and doesn’t have good enough teachers to train him. Please teach him yourself.”
Many years after Edison’s mother had died, he became one of the greatest inventors of the century. One day, he was going through a closet and he found the folded letter that his teacher wrote to his mother that day. He opened it. The message written on the letter said, “Your son is mentally deficient. We cannot let him attend our school anymore. He is expelled.”
Edison became very emotional, and then wrote the following in his diary. "Thomas A. Edison was a mentally deficient child whose mother turned him into the genius of the century."
Barring that this is all true, little Thomas became a genius at the very moment the letter was ‘read.’ Why? Because his mother told him so. Had Mrs. Edison simply regurgitated the small-minded and negative words from the teacher, the incandescent light bulb, a sophisticated way of tracking votes, tremendous advances in communications, motion pictures, and even the alkaline battery may not have come from Thomas A. Edison–arguably the most influential inventor of modern history. Instead, he would have been relegated to the category of the ‘mentally deficient.’
There is no question that our words have weight, and that what we say–positive or negative–has an effect on the one being spoken to. Perhaps Mrs. Edison knew this and decidedly chose her words carefully, handling them with care. As a mother and a visionary, she detected greatness in her son, a greatness his teachers were unable to recognize. Instead of seeing his lack, she recognized his potential. And she spoke to it.
I try to visualize the journey words take as they traverse from one’s lips. Through my mind’s eye, I ‘see’ spoken words flowing from one’s mouth to another’s ears as invisible ‘seeds’. As the words make their way through our processing centers, they eventually implant themselves in our psyches where they take root. If the words were positive in nature, then positive feelings about oneself grow and flourish. However, if negative words are spoken, what gets planted are potentially negative feelings of the self.
And of course, the one who is speaking the words counts for something too. Parents, educators and other people of influence have a lot of say–pardon the pun–in the way we view ourselves. As per the tale, for young Thomas, it was his mother who had the good fortune of planting within him the seeds he needed for his genius to flourish.
I was amazed when I read about a study conducted by a Japanese scientist named Dr. Masaru Emoto on the effects words have on matter. In his controlled experiment, Dr. Emoto proved spoken words have direct and verifiable effects on water matter and that positive spoken words and negative spoken words yield fascinatingly different results. In a nutshell, pure water derived from a single source was poured into several different petri dishes and frozen for a length of time. Before they were put in the freezer, someone spoke to each petri dish and said either positive or negative statements. Astounding results awaited the scientists once they removed the frozen petri dishes from the freezer. Beautifully shaped, stunning and wonderfully organized crystals formed in the petri dishes that were spoken to with kind words such as, ‘Thank you very much’, ‘love and appreciation’, and ‘soul’. However, if the statements were negative curses, angry words or insults such as, ‘idiot’ and ‘ugly,’ the crystals inside those petri dishes took on forms that were completely different. They looked nothing like the crystals formed after having been spoken to nicely. If these are the results that words have on water, imagine how words can affect us…
Truthfully, I don’t need to do my own experiment to see the validity to this. I have used words from both ends of the spectrum throughout my life and have been on the receiving end of them as well. When I am strategic and thoughtful with the words I choose, I am better able to inspire and build up a person. I can see in my listener’s eyes that my choice words are creating more positive self-images, belief in oneself and good self esteem–all of which can be accessed at later stages. However, when I speak off the cuff out of anger or frustration, the opposite effect has greater potential to take place. The saying, ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me’ is a flat out lie; anyone who has been on the receiving end of vicious words can attest to this. Moreover, making ill-fated attempts to try to take back our words are always met with a lack of success. Believe me, I have tried.
On a personal note, I had a Torah teacher in Toronto who I met with weekly before I made Aliyah. It is because of her careful and positive speech–reassuring words, encouraging feedback and optimistic view of me–that pushed me forward to become who I am today professionally. She expressed her belief in me at a time where I didn’t see myself in quite the same light that she saw me in. Her words built me up and they continue to carry me forward today.
The Torah tells us that when G-d blew a soul into Adam, he became a ‘speaking being.’ (Genesis 2:7). Therefore, words and speech are Divine gifts given only to humans and thus need to be handled with care.
Let’s learn yet another lesson from Edison's mother. If we drop our words carelessly onto others, we break them. However, if we take care and are mindful of how and what we say by thinking before we speak and choosing our words with thoughtful concern for the recipient, then not only do we elevate the ones we speak to, but we make the world a better and brighter place to be in!
Aviva Meshwork is an educator, writer, and Trip Director for the JWRP. Originally from Toronto, she now lives in Israel with her husband and children.