Positive Awareness

By Adina Mayer, JET’s Positive Speech Project Coordinator


Everyone wants to change the world. The best part is, we all know how to do just that. In order to change the world, you first have to – you guessed it – change yourself. Famous teachers and philosophers, past and present, have shared this wisdom, but it’s time to take the quote off of a beautiful background and put it into action.

There was recently a picture of a little girl reading with her mother on a train. A fellow passenger asked how the mother was able to get her child to read on the train when so many kids are using phones or tablets. She explained that her daughter sees her reading and follows suit. The best we can do is serve as an example to clear the path for others.

The technology available today gives us the opportunity to connect with people all over the world at every hour of the day. What better way to start infusing positivity and light into the world than starting with something so natural to our everyday life already: our speech.

The Positive Speech Project is a new initiative geared at college students to use self-awareness to improve the way we communicate with each other. There is great power in the ripple effect on our words, and the awareness of our personality can lead us to more clarity. The program aims to improve communication by focusing on the causes of hurtful speech and learning the tools to make lasting changes. Here are just five tools to continue on the journey to changing the world through our speech:


Raise your Level of Consciousness


A friend was recently driving behind a car that had a sign, “Learning stick sorry for any delay.” As she drove behind them, she was patient with their frequent breaking and stalling. She later reflected on whether she would have been as patient had that sign not been there.

The key to staying positive in this particular situation is awareness. Knowing what to expect allowed her to stay calm and patient even in a potentially stressful situation.  By raising our level of consciousness we can strive towards a more meaningful life through positive interactions.

Imagine a pilot flying an airplane when something goes wrong. The pilot is trained to keep composure and go to Plan B.  Thinking of positive speech this way is the tool awareness provides for us. By training our brains to consider more possibilities than the obvious, to learn to give people the benefit of the doubt before we are in crisis mode helps us to form positive thinking habits which directly translates to our speech.


Take a Look in the Mirror


The Ba’al Shem Tov taught that when we look at others we are really looking at a mirror of ourselves. When we notice negative traits in others, often they are simply a reflection of those traits we must work on within us somehow. In a significant way, our own personality shapes the reality we see in our interactions with others.  It is our task to learn to recognize that when we see faults in others, we must use it as an opportunity for self-reflection.

Imagine that you are interacting with someone who is constantly bragging about their achievements and you perceive them as honor seeking. Instead of focusing on that negative trait in them, focus on how you in your life and personality display honor.

Chana Nestlebaum, author of Positive Word Power so poignantly shares that “to gain mastery over positive speech, a person needs to assemble a full inventory of positive thoughts and reactions. Then we have the tools that we can grab and use on the spot when we discover – as we always will – that the people in our lives are only human” (29).  It is a great challenge to look at people in a positive light, but looking inwards is a tried-and-true method to infusing more positive light into your life which will hopefully radiate into the world.


Lighten your Focus


A powerful exercise in reframing our mindset is the black dot exercise. When you look at the black dot, describe what you see. At first glance, most people see a black dot, when in reality there is white space surrounding a black dot. This is an equivalence to what we so naturally do in life, especially in our relationship with others: we focus on the negative traits when we should be training our brains to focus on the positive.

A useful technique to add into our positive speech toolkit is that whenever you notice yourself focusing on a negative trait, consciously shift it to the positive traits. This could be by giving them a blessing, or thinking of a memory of a positive interaction in the past.

Returning to the driving scenario for a moment, let’s say that driver opted not to have the “new at stick shift” warning sign. Driving behind them, frustrated as can be, I would reframe the situation by giving them a blessing to “get to their destination safely and have a great day.” This may seem like a trivial almost childish maneuver, but maybe it is not such a bad thing to add some child-like positivity to the world.

I like to visualize the positive and negative thoughts in my brain like a ping-pong game, and this technique takes the ball from the “black dot” side of the court back to the “white paper” side of any given situation. Simply the awareness of knowing you are focusing on the black dot can help you rewire your brain to focus on the white paper.


Recognize the Face Behind the Screen


Technology has become so pervasive in our lives and has given us many new challenges regarding speech. It is much easier to have a debate and completely disregard their feelings because they are out of sight and out of mind. If we can stop and use our awareness skills to really think what we say or type before we hit “send,” we might think about the repercussions of our statements on the other person, or on anyone else who may come across the post.

The internet can truly be a wonderful resource, but just as with anything in this world, the potential of good has the equal and opposing potential for destruction, and that is so the case with the nature of posting something instantly that can reach a vast number of people in seconds.

Before sending a message or posting a thought, take a few minutes to read it over and consider how your message might be read. Will it bring a smile to someone’s face, or have the opposite effect? It may also be beneficial to wait before responding, especially in terms of emotional interactions. It’s unbelievably easy to miscommunicate when speaking through typing, so just being more mindful and sensitive of these interactions can only help.


Gratitude Goes a Long Way


The idea of saying “Thank you” instead of saying “sorry” is forward thinking in the way that it focuses on the present and future rather than past mistakes. There is definitely a place for apologizing when it comes to speech, but in this case, a positive mental shift can have a positive impact.

Popular techniques such as a gratitude journal or just stopping for a moment to appreciate the blessing in our lives rather than focusing on the lacks is the perfect example of “mental ping pong.” The focus on gratitude shifts the focus from the negative to the positive. When practicing the various techniques to transform the negative to the positive, a conscious shift in thought is created which will then radiate outwards. This promotes a much more positive life with positive relationships and interactions.

It is an exciting time to be a part of The Positive Speech Project with two programs currently running in Champaign-Urbana with student leaders engaging fellow students on the most effective tools and techniques to communicate more positively. Our mission is to create solid individuals who as natural Jewish leaders will help change the world… by starting with themselves, of course.