June 29 | Shelach
July 6 | Korach
1 Samuel 11:14-12:22
A study in the Journal of Consumer Research divided 120 students into two groups. When offered ice cream, members of group one were taught to say “I can’t eat ice cream.” When the second group was given the same temptation, they were told to say “I don’t eat ice cream.”
Each group repeated their phrase over and over and then they were given a questionnaire to fill out that had nothing to do with the study. After turning it in, the students were offered a complimentary treat on their way out and could choose between a candy bar or a healthier granola bar.
The study found those who said “I can’t eat X” chose the candy bar 61% of the time. Those who said “I don’t” chose the candy bar only 36% of the time. Researchers concluded the very terminology we use influences our will, discipline and self-control. “I can’t” is a restriction and undermines one’s sense of autonomy. “I don’t” is psychologically empowering, an affirmation of one’s willpower.
In parsha Shelach we learn about the episode of the spies and the disaster that ensued. The generation of the Exodus perished during the 40-year sojourn in the desert. In the haftorah, we read the story of when Joshua sent spies prior to entering the land and the mission was successful with no dire consequences. Why do these seemingly similar incidents have such radically different outcomes?
During the time of Moshe, the spies went to determine if the land was conquerable or not. This displayed a lack of trust in God, who had assured them they would inherit the land. In the days of Joshua, however, there was no doubt regarding the ultimate triumph. They merely sought the best way to implement their destiny. The question was not “if,” but “how.”
The language that we use matters. Reactive language can become a
self-fulfilling prophecy for failure. Proactive language empowers us to accomplish our dreams and fulfill our destiny.
Independence Day celebrates our ability to make choices that improve our lives and communities. Oftentimes, we know what we want but can encounter many hurdles, self-imposed or otherwise, along the way. One small way to help our journeys toward achieving our personal and collective destiny is to use proactive language that exercises our autonomy and independence.
Rabbi David Claman is rabbi of Congregation Ahavas Sholom in Bexley.