Almost everyone has a grandmother who used to say, "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say it at all." Many of us didn't listen. Many grandmothers today are too young to remember this adage. It doesn't seem to be a predominant value in our "me first" celebrity-driven culture, a culture that rails against bullying in the schoolyard yet favors television shows where at least one contestant is scathingly criticized before being voting out.
For those of us who still find wisdom in those (now ancient) words, along comes our cyber grandmother (actually a young mother of four). Audi Weitz, originally from Southern California and now a resident of New York, has created www.speaknicely.com. The web site promotes the idea of honoring others, smiling at them and appreciating their good. She has created T-shirts with these types of slogans on them and has discovered that they are more empowering to our children than the popular "My daddy makes more $$$ than yours."
Growing up in a non-religious home, Audi was always involved with Jewish youth groups and drawn towards Jewish observance and a connection with her ancestors. But it wasn't until she moved east after college that Audi experience her first Shabbos.
As Audi and her husband, Scott, deepened their involvement in the Jewish community she began to read the words of the Chofetz Chaim -- books focused on not speaking slander and encouraging love of our fellow Jews.
Audi and Scott are keenly aware of the issues that divide us and the senseless animosity amidst the Jewish people.
With family and friends who are not observant, Audi and Scott bridge both worlds and are keenly aware of the issues that divide us and the senseless animosity amidst the Jewish people.
So Audi took action. In March of 2008, she created her website in order to sell the T-shirts and rubber bracelets emboldened with messages of love and caring -- and respect (try looking for that in your typical clothing line!). Her children have become her real-life "models," frequently stopped by strangers on the street to discuss and admire the message.
"A smile is good" is meant to remind the wearer -- and observer -- what a difference such a small act of kindness can make, especially for the lonely and elderly. It's these small steps that create new realities.
"Honor people" reminds us that everyone is created in the Almighty's image and that there is good in all of us. Sometimes we may have to dig a little deeper to find it, but we want the Almighty to dig deeply to find ours if necessary so we should do the same for others.
The friendship bracelets have been used by summer camps as a basis for a whole program on being careful with speech. Creating a loving and supportive camp environment is not an easy feat yet the benefit to children can't be qualified. "Cool" bracelets with the appropriate message ease the counselor's task.
The idea of the T-shirts is to educate our children to use the power of speech as a force for good and not divisiveness. We all want our children to be nice, to be mensches. These shirts are a new tool in our kid. As one of the boys' T-shirts says, "I am the future".
Ultimately Audi would like to develop an online community of kids and teens all inspired by her upbeat messages, all looking to be loving and caring towards others, all committed to searching out the good in their fellow human beings.
We recently finished the mournful day of Tisha B'Av which marks the destruction of the Second Temple due to senseless hatred. What better time to check out a website planned around being nice, around treating ourselves and others with dignity? This is the moment to incorporate and promote the messages of the T-shirts. (How refreshing for parents to find T-shirts we can feel proud to purchase!) The time to spread their message is now, after our period of mourning is over and we are re-infused with hope for the future and reinvigorated by the potential of our people.