You are smart. You are kind. You are beautiful. Believe it.
Believe it, because words are potent! They are healers, weapons, bridges, and tools for transformation. According to Ethnologue, there are more than 7100 languages spoken in the world today. And in every one of these languages, thoughts are encoded into sounds or symbols, which are passed through ears or eyes and interpreted into meaning. It’s nothing short of miraculous, if you think about it!
And words tell stories. Only in the retelling do our experiences gain substance. What was ephemeral finds expression in words. In this way, language gives our lives permanence. It has formed laws and started and ended wars. Entire civilizations have been built on words (case in point: our own Constitution). Through language, we certify important passages, as in “I now pronounce you man and wife”… or, timely right now: “You are now an official graduate–here, take this written diploma that proves it!” (We’ve got a few of those at our house… proud parent moments!) Words have a sealing, finalizing quality.
And beautiful? Oh, how they can be! We love language that expresses life-affirming sentiments. In my book Rethink Love, I included a love letter I wrote to my husband, Michael. It was so much more than words on a page: in that letter was a shared life, an emotion captured in words! It brought substance and power to my intention for the project.
But words can be harmful, too. Especially when we toss them around (or take them in) carelessly. Sometimes we say negative things, flippantly. We turn on ourselves in negative self-talk: I don’t deserve this… or I can’t do this. We’ve all been there. And then there’s the constant stream of negativity available 24/7 on tv. Or, while sitting at lunch with friends, how tempting it can be to get drawn into gossip.
But Kabbalah teaches that speaking negatively about someone (including ourselves) is the worst form of darkness. It’s an arrow that turns itself back against the speaker. So whatever bad thing you have to say about another, you are, in effect, revealing that very same thing about yourself. And, if the bad speech is about YOU, then it’s doubly harmful!
In a way, we live our words, and our words live us. Countless studies have shown that children will live up to the expectations set for them through the words, speech, and behaviors of the adults around them. (This phenomenon is known as the Pygmalion Effect.) In fact, a long-term study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that students whose high school teachers had high expectations of them graduated from college at three times the rate of those whose teachers had low expectations.
Likewise, a slab of clay doesn’t manifest into something until a sculptor’s hands form it. Think of spiritual energy as that lump of unworked clay. Our words and thoughts sculpt that energy, giving it shape, form, and dimension in our reality. According to the Zohar, “Human speech is intimately tied to the Divine. The voice can summon forth both dark and Light forces.”
The good news? Because words come from thoughts and thoughts can be changed, we can change our reality just by shifting the negative into the positive!
So next time you’re hedging into negative territory with your thoughts or speech, stop. Think. And challenge yourself to shift to the positive. For example, you can tackle a “problem,” or face a “challenge.” You can see something as a “dead end,” or view it as a “detour” to something better. And the same idea or object might be seen as “beautiful,” “interesting,” or “ugly,” depending on who is describing it.
All words are powerful. Every single one. As the Rav said, it takes one moment to destroy what it takes years to build. Yet the opposite is also true: We can build a new world in an instant–one that lifts and brings light to ourselves and our world. Because if we think it, write it, and speak it, we’re more than halfway there.