Carol Davidson was my mother-in-law. She was born and raised in the badlands of New York City and managed to maintain her accent, her elbows and her pithy observations despite being exiled to Virginia as a young bride.
Carol was a mere slip of a thing, as much a function of a childhood illness that damaged her heart as anything else. Her face was graced by two distinctive features – a wide smile and a set of very expressive eyebrows, both of which she could deploy effortlessly.
In her life, she never used the expression “y’all” nor lost the additional “r” at the end of certain words. She was adept at finding her way to the head of a line or the front of a crowd, when necessary, with a special affinity for navigating Loehmann’s (which closed at the same time as she died, too perfect to be accidental).
And she had no patience for whining. If someone had an issue that was generating empty complaints, she had this response: “You’ve got a mouth. Use it.”
She gave that command to her friends, her children and even her grandchildren. (She never had to give it to me.) And she took her own advice.
At first blush (and because I set it up this way), you might think this is just some sort of New York edginess. But this piece of wisdom is not some line of dialogue that sounds like it came from “My Cousin Vinny.” It is, instead, an understanding that words level the playing field.
Spoken or written, eloquently flowing or passionately firing, speaking up is the great equalizer. Words are power, and power should not be squandered or misused.
Carol would not have called herself a Jewish scholar, but her lesson is thoroughly Jewish, even foundational to the Bible. After all, according to the Book of Genesis, our entire world exists because God has a mouth and used it.
Let there be this, let there be that, let there be these other things and, oh yeah, the humans in God’s image. The very first action God takes is speaking, and out of that speech, everything happened.
It doesn’t matter whether you understand that narrative literally or figuratively, it puts using your mouth at the very center of life.
Speak up and create a world. Stay silent and live in darkness and chaos. Whine and complain about the way things are and things will remain the way they are. Take your issue to the source of the problem and repair the world around you.
I’ve been told that I was born talking and haven’t stopped since. My college roommate once described my course of study in communications as a major in talking.
For me, words come pretty freely. I expend a few hundred of them in columns like this one all the time. Not everyone has that proclivity.
And to be sure, there are people who, though they have a mouth, are not always able to use it. For some, there is a physical impediment. For some, there are legal impediments. For some, instead of a bully pulpit, they only have a bully.
But this bit of wisdom is no less important figuratively than it is literally – just like the Bible.
Each of us, in our own way, has the capacity to make our circumstances better. We also have the inclination to accept the status quo as a grievance. It’s a choice at every step along the way.
Sometimes your voice is spoken and sometimes written and sometimes sung. Sometimes it is a vote and sometimes a contribution and sometimes an invitation. Sometimes it is just showing up.
Any way you look at it, if you don’t like what’s going on, there isn’t much to be gained by wallowing in misery and muttering about your lot in life.
Arch your eyebrows, smile your widest smile and then, you’ve got a mouth. Use it.