On news broadcasts and interviews I have noticed something scary. Boys involved in violent crime are largely illiterate. This chilling correlation has been confirmed to me by friends in criminal justice and law enforcement. You’d think that just by the laws of probability, at least some assailants and murderers when caught would have more to say than just meaningless gesticulations and obscenities. I have been looking for just one carjacker who, upon being apprehended, told the policeman, “It’s challenging to understand, officer, I know, but while taking my afternoon constitutional, I was seized by an irresistible desire to inflict physical harm on an innocent citizen and to transfer his motor vehicle to my possession.”
Ancient Jewish wisdom suggests that the desire to communicate is present from birth and that parents who neglect this most crucial of their responsibilities may be complicit in their children’s later lack of socialization skills.
A really interesting phase in raising a child occurs just before he begins to speak. Many observant parents notice a period of apparent anger and frustration. The child is ready to communicate with speech, desperately desires to communicate and cannot quite put the words together yet. Some parents try to avoid this difficult time by teaching their infants baby sign language. It fascinates me to watch pre-verbal toddlers moving their little fingers in purposeful and meaningful ways.
Clearly, we are created to communicate. That toddler, not yet possessing even crude motor skills like catching a ball, can already recognize the complex distinctions between nouns and verbs. Teaching the child the names of things, chatting with and reading to a child are indispensable steps in educating for communication. There is a vast difference in the number of words to which small children are exposed in diligent homes and indifferent ones. Studies at the University of Kansas and other institutions show that there is a direct correlation between the number of words a toddler hears and learns and her subsequent academic achievement. By the age of three, children of diligent parents hear millions of words more than children of indifferent parents. In America there is a disturbing correlation between rise in juvenile crime and the deterioration in English language education in the nation’s public schools.
Fluency in speech is closely connected to an ability to write. Employers, military induction officers and social workers confirm that increasing numbers of young adults are incapable of writing down their thoughts coherently. Most of these also fail to comprehend simple written instructions. This is obviously a huge social problem. Whether creating a business plan, solving a family crisis or constructing an international treaty to avoid war, the first thing always is to express in words the problem you’re trying to solve. It is almost impossible to find the solution if you haven’t transformed the problem from feelings to words.
Furthermore, communication and conversation lead to collaboration and cooperation which lead to creativity. In other words, almost no major challenges are successfully overcome by any one person acting entirely alone. Talk and conversation are the tools of this cooperation. Depriving our children of the tools of communication is to sentence them to needlessly underachieving lives at best and perhaps to criminality and worse.
This is why ancient Jewish wisdom regularly refers to God having achieved all of Creation by means of statements, the first of which was, “Let there be light.”
King David elaborates on this when he says:
By the word of the Lord, the heavens were made, and with the breath of His mouth, all their host.
The Bible does not record, “And God made light”. It reports that God used words to create. In the same way today, a budding entrepreneur doesn’t tell people, “I feel like creating a business.” Instead he shows a written business plan in which words specify the story.
When a goal or ambition gets written down it starts coming to life. Attaching times and deadlines then transforms a mere dream into a plan. Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that God gave man the power of words and speech in the seventh verse of chapter two in Genesis because He wants us to connect, communicate, collaborate, and create. A few verses later, God creates another human with whom Adam could communicate and ultimately create.
People who have been handicapped by inadequate instruction in words very understandably feel frustration. Maybe even you are not fulfilling your ultimate potential of communication and collaboration. Once we are adults, it is our own responsibility to correct any deficiencies from our upbringing. Each of us can improve our ability to use words to connect and communicate by making a deliberate effort to improve fluency and vocabulary.
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We are tidying up our warehouse and have found a number of copies of Noah Alper’s book, Business Mensch: Timeless Wisdom for Today’s Entrepreneur that have damaged covers or crinkled insides. While they last, we are making them available for $5 each. Amortize the shipping cost by adding Dear Rabbi and Susan: 101 Real-life Ask the Rabbi Questions, on sale now for only $9.99. For an added bonus, use both books to spark conversation and articulate ideas, improving your own fluency in the process.