Words Create Worlds

I will never forget a story I heard from a dear friend. She recounted to me that she and her family were out for brunch with the grandparents. Halfway through the meal, her mother-in-law looked at her eight-year old granddaughter and asked her when she was going to start waxing her eyebrows. The child promptly excused herself and headed straight to the bathroom. Quickly, hopping up to follow her; my friend knew what was about to unfold—tears—and lots of them. For the next several minutes she tried to talk to her daughter and share that what was said most likely came from a place of constructive criticism.

It has been over a decade and I still remember that painful story. Reflecting upon that exchange, I have come to understand that our words have power; our words matter; our words create worlds.

It is so important to choose our words wisely but also to take a moment, to think about how they might be received by another. That’s not to suggest that we should not engage in hard or painful conversations, but rather, perhaps we can take a breath, pausing before we speak to make sure that we really want to express what is about to come out of our mouths.

Recently, Jews around the world began reading the Torah from the beginning, Bereisheet. In it, we read about God creating the world through words, “God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water, that it may separate water from water…And it was so. God said,“Let the water below the sky be gathered into one area, that the dry land may appear. And it was so.”[1] Each time God speaks, a different part of the world comes into being. The Torah teaches us that our world was created through God speaking. If we are created in God’s image, then doesn’t it stand to reason (by the transitive property), that our speech also creates worlds?

I’d like to suggest that the words that we use create the worlds of our grandchildren, both their external world and perhaps, more importantly, their internal world. How we speak to them and in front of them about issues will become part of their world view. How we speak to them and in front of them about who they are as individuals will become part of how they come to see themselves and their role in our world.

When we share words of praise and love with our grandchildren, they come to see and experience themselves and the world around them in a joyful and loving way. And vice-versa, when we share words of critique and criticism (even with the best intention) our grandchildren come to see themselves through this critical eye.

How we speak to our grandchildren matters.

How we speak with our grandchildren matters.

I’m not dissuading anyone from having an important, difficult conversations, rather, I’m inviting us each to be mindful of the words we use and the way in which we speak them.

The relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild is incredibly special. I remember my own grandparents and the words and wisdom they shared with me over the years. It is those words of pride, love and joy that have helped me to create my own world view, one filled with love and optimism and it is their words that sustain me to this day.

May the words that we speak with our grandchildren create beautiful, confident, kind, loving, generous, justice-oriented worlds for them and for all children who are blessed to have a grandparent in their life.

[1] Genesis 1, https://www.sefaria.org/Genesis.1.9?lang=en&aliyot=0

 Amy Grossblatt Pessah is a rabbi, author, and mom. The teaching from this blog comes from her new book: Parenting on a Prayer: Ancient Jewish Secrets for Raising Modern Children (Ben Yehuda Press, March 2020). You can learn more about Rabbi Amy at www.asoulfuljourney.com