Language is a Beautiful Thing
by Sam Pinnick
Using language positively
Language is a beautiful thing – especially when used in a positive, productive manner. I’ve always loved words, lyrics in songs, short quotes that sum up a mood or just listening to people illustrating a view or a story using language.
Listening to the radio recently Presenter Jeremy Vine was promoting his “What makes us human?” podcast and Actor Stephen Fry’s reply was language, language, language! Which I took as a sign that I may have something to say…
When our beloved Gila starts a conversation with “I have a proposition for you” – you know you can’t say no! So here I am talking on zoom, completely out of my comfort zone
Gila’s call came after I commented on a phrase one of their ‘In conversation with’ speakers made during their interview. Jimmy Gittins a former Rugby League player suffered a horrendous injury during a game leaving him in a wheelchair. When Gila asked him - how does he motivate himself? without hesitation his answer gave me goosebumps – “discipline your disappointment” - in essence make sure your ambitions are achievable, and if things don’t go as planned always find a positive - whether that be in someone’s comment, or something as simple as just a smile. I thought his phrasing was so powerful.
His words got me thinking about the language we use, how we phrase things, and the tone we give to our words. Whether we are positive and uplifting or negative and dismissive with those around us.
A few examples sprung to mind…
How we use language to empower others by enabling them to believe in themselves is not just the job of Rebbetizens, teachers and coaches – as parents, carers and grandparents we do it all the time…
When my children were young, I remember we decided the word CAN’T would be avoided. We told the kids, there may be challenges and new skills to be learnt and they happily accepted this! CAN’T has negative, dismissive conations and therefore we felt not useful when moulding young minds.
Many of you may see me walking locally with my Nordic sticks, and everyone I pass I say “good morning” to, much to my family’s embarrassment. But you see those 2 simple words often bring a smile to the recipient’s face, so I’m encouraged to continue.
But don’t get me wrong I have my own challenges, during lockdown I heard myself using the word ‘should’ far more than is healthy, I should have continued with my Pilates, I should have used the time to learn a new skill, I should listen to my own advice more – none of which is helpful or useful!
But I’m in good company as perfecting our use of language is a life-long challenge for many of us, as the story of Miriam goes, even she couldn’t help herself but criticise her brother Moshe in a negative way and therefore was punished with a case of Tzaraat and made to remain outside of their camp for 7 days.
Language carries the potential of causing catastrophic harm, often tearing apart families and friendships. Hurt caused by words is generally irreparable as words can never be taken back. Thankfully, awareness of lashon hara (negative speech) has increased in past decades, largely influenced by the writings of the Chafetz Chaim (Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan) on this topic, that I had the privilege to learn about with our dear friend and teacher the late Linda Lyons.
But where I get frustrated with people’s use of language is around self-care and especially food, having spent 3 years studying Nutrition. When I hear people use words like what’s good or bad for them, I can feel my toes curl. Listen to people who feel the need to vocally justify their food decisions and you’ll hear them say “I can’t eat that it’s bad for me” or “I’m being good and only eating this”…
Obviously, I should caveat this with the fact that there are people with allergies and intolerances, who know the specific foods that will make them feel unwell or worse. I’m clearly not referring to them.
As we are about to celebrate Shavuot I’m mindful of cheesecake. I love cheesecake, I was practically weaned on cheesecake but nowadays I can have a mouthful, a bite but if I eat more than that I’ll experience unpleasant repercussions! Doesn’t make the cheesecake bad, it just doesn’t agree with me…
So, when talking to yourself or those around you, remember our former rugby playing guest and try and use language that is positive and uplifting, it can be infectious in a good way…