Chana Weisberg is the author of four books including the best-selling Divine Whispers and the newly released Tending the Garden. She is a associate editor for www.chabad.org and lectures worldwide on a wide array of issues. To have her speak for your community or to be a part of her upcoming book tour, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the past two years, any time we’ve met our neighbors on our front lawn, near the street’s curb, the discussion has invariably turned to the very pressing issue of… garbage.
The city of Toronto is running out of space to dump its garbage. Apparently, and understandably, none of the residents want it in their backyard. So the city has embarked on an ambitious recycling program – with the result that cleaning up after a regular weekday meal in the Weisberg residence has become a very complicated project.
“Where do these paper plates go?” my eight-year-old son wants to know.
“Which garbage?” my two-and-half-year-old daughter asks, holding a banana peel.
I guide my toddler to the beige compost bin resting on the kitchen counter. Leftover food, peels or eggshells get deposited there. Sara Leah smiles as she tosses in her peel and I smile thinking about how as this waste eventually decays it will be turned into fertilizer, enabling other food to grow more productively.
I direct my son to the large, blue recycle bin kept nearby in the laundry room. I explain that the cardboard packaging, paper and hard plastics that go here will be recycled and transformed into something useful. My son’s eyes shine as he contemplates all the new usages of our colorful cereal boxes, lasagna packages and egg cartons.
And finally, there’s our much-less-used old garbage bin looking forlorn in the kitchen corner. The only thing it gets these days is real garbage – items that cannot be recycled into anything. The foam disposable plates (which we stopped using) used to go in there, along with the flimsy plastic wrapping that covers so many commercial packages. This garbage will cause the most damage and contamination to the environment through its elimination.
I admit that it took me a while to get used to the new system, grumbling together with my neighbors at the front curb. But now I actually feel good every time I toss something into a bin, envisioning its future incarnations.
As I tidy up after dinner one evening, it occurs to me that not only garbage has these three categories. Every word we utter has its respective destination.
Some words foster growth and development. These are the affirmations we give to our spouses, children and friends for something positive they’ve done. The words generate feelings of acceptance and love, bringing us closer to each other and motivating us to continue in our productive path. These words should be used generously, as they fertilize growth.
Then there are those words that, in and of themselves, may not be positive. Sometimes, we have no choice but to criticize, to correct an error or point out a failing. But with some thought and effort, these words can provide guidance and direction, and even transformation. If doled out carefully with warmth and love, and “processed” properly and in the right circumstances, these words can help an individual “recycle” the negative in himself into something positive, by defining his strengths and weaknesses and finding outlets for his talents, creativity and personality.
Finally, there are irredeemable words that ooze with negativity. Words which, spoken in the heat of anger or in a moment of thoughtlessness, are devoid of any constructive value. They’ll poison our environment and bring hurt and pain into the hearts of those around us.
Like our household waste, every word that leaves our mouths leaves an impact. Every word is recycled back into our environment, leaving an indelible impression on those around us. It may fertilize growth, it may be recycled into something useful – or it may contaminate our surroundings.
As we streamline our garbage disposal, perhaps we should also consider how we dispense our gift of words.