When Jane the Virgin star Gina Rodriguez accepted her Golden Globes for Best Actress in a TV Comedy in 2015, she concluded her speech, while holding back her tears, “My father used to tell me to say every morning, ‘Today is going to be a great day. I can and I will,” she said, “Well dad, today is a great day. I can and I did.”
In an interview, she noted how her father instilled the power of positivity in her and her siblings’ lives, encouraging them to declare what is good to their future. Her dad, boxing referee Genaro Rodriguez, encouraged them to use their words to attract positivity and an “I can do it” mentality.
Palestinian-American actress and comedienne Maysoon Zayid share a similar experience. The co-founder of the New York Arab-American Comedy festival and a former full-time contributor at NBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” Maysoon has performed in comedy clubs all over America and the Middle East. Her standup sells out 4,000-capacity venues in Egypt. Her TED Women talk which she delivered in Washington, D.C. in 2013 has more than 10 million views.
Maysoon, who has Cerebral Palsy (CP), described herself as being like “Shakira, Shakira meets Muhammad Ali.” She jokes that she’s a stand-up who can’t stand.
“A lot of people with CP don’t walk, but my parents didn’t believe in ‘can’t,” she said during her TED speech. “My father’s mantra was, ‘You can do it, yes you can can.’”
Although Maysoon’s father never denied that his daughter has CP, he coupled the positive declarations he expressed to his daughter with the expectation that she will live a normal life. “So, if my three older sisters were mopping, I was mopping. If my three older sisters went to public school, my parents would sue the school system and guarantee that I went too,” she reminisced, “and if we didn’t all get A’s, we all got my mother’s slipper.”
She learned to walk by literally walking in her father’s shoes. When she was five years old, her dad would place her heels on his feet and start walking. “By the first day of kindergarten, I was walking like a champ who had punched one too many times.”
Her dad expected her to walk. In fact he expected the best from her in all aspects of her life and didn’t stop pounding the idea: “You can do it, yes you can can.”
In an interview with Jonas Elrod for the Oprah Winfrey Network show In Deep Shift, she said:
“I believed very deeply in my soul that God paired me and my father purposefully. And that He knew that my father would give me the strength to be a person with disability that was proud, always held her head high, and was never ever bitter.”
What people and even medicine would have thought Maysoon couldn’t, she “can can” and she did.
Our words have an intent and fuel an expectation. Gina and Maysoon’s experiences showcased that what we say are rarely empty.
What Gina and Maysoon’s fathers’ spoke over their daughters spurred them to believe in themselves. They were empowered to think that their circumstance is a starting point, and that they can define it instead of the other way around.
“Words give us a notion of past, present, and future,” Evan Moffic wrote in The Creative Power of Words, a reflection on the Genesis portion of the Torah. We can either live a life of misery or joy and fulfilment through the words we master, because the things we pronounce could influence our portrait of and expectations from the world. “Our words give us the power to describe our past, define our present, and dream of our future.”
An excerpt from the book The Power of Speaking Life by Caleb Maglaya Galaraga.