I am thinking about the importance of words. I think most people take words for granted.
A friend of mine sent me an article by Tony Judt. He wrote about the importance of words in this family when he was growing up, about the times in the beginning of the 1950s when speaking proper English was very important. In college he was a master with words, but he didn’t really understand the importance of silence.
Over many years and during my illness I have learned the importance of silence.
A few weeks ago I went to see a play based on The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. C. S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors and I will be talking more about his work in future. In one passage Screwtape is advising his nephew Wormwood, a fledgling demonic tempter on Earth. He suggests that Wormwood try to fill the human’s head that he is trying to corrupt with noise. For if our heads are constantly filled with noise of people speaking, trains running, babies crying and dogs barking, we will never know the peace of silence and the knowledge that may come from within.
Tony says for him rhetorical flexibility allows for a certain feigned closeness, conveying proximity while maintaining distance. I see this in people who don’t walk the talk. I also agree in matters of language, outsiders are frequently deceived.
I remember that when I was the director of a health information department in a hospital, the director of human relations often sent down recruits who he believed were just right for the position I had requested. He often based his decision on the person’s flair for words, what we call in Texas a bullshit artist.
I have always thought of language as a gift. When I was young I was too shy to speak so I wrote down my thoughts. As I became older, I realized that many times people only listened to part of what I was saying to them because they felt like they needed to think about what they were going to say in reply. First to test this theory, then out of frustration that I was not being listened to, I would often stop in mid sentence. Most people did not notice. Has a pause/silence become so uncomfortable?
When Selch and I started dating, I would stop in mid-sentence and he would say “Yes, continue?” I was somewhat flabbergasted realizing I had fallen into this rather lazy way of speaking. Fortunately, I received enough prompting from him and was even able to finish my sentence even though it might mean talking over someone’s premature response.
As Tony wrote in his article many people talk the abbreviated language of Facebook and Twitter and texting. It is still confusing to me because words used different ways can have so many ambiguous meanings. I communicate on Second Life quite a bit. Everyone has forgotten how to spell or they just don’t care about spelling anymore. I will be texting with someone and am later shocked that I am talking to a philosophy teacher with a PhD.
We have voice on Second Life now which adds an interesting depth to conversations on Second Life. If a person is speaking in text, it is easy to hide whether you are male or female. Voice morphing software is available but they do sound like a male trying to impersonate a female or a female trying to impersonate a male
What I love about voice on Second Life is I have the opportunity to really speak with people from other countries. Yes, there are some language barriers perhaps made worse by not being able to actually see the person but we usually seem to work it out and are for the better for having the experience.
I, like Tony when he wrote this article, am in the grip of a neurological disorder. He says what I think so well that “the view from inside is as rich as ever.” Fortunately, I am still able to speak fluently at times. What you do not know is often it is a struggle to capture the words in my head and speak them out of my mouth or type them onto paper.
So many of my characters are suffering from locked-in syndrome. For awhile they were all yelling at me, wanting me to tell their stories. That is the way it has always worked. I dictate the drama they play in my head.
In most people there is a control mechanism in their heads that they take for granted. It is like a gate you walk through to get to the subway. It helps order tasks and projects so that you aren’t constantly overwhelmed.
The reason it is hard for me to say or write my stories is the same reason I am unable to do activities of daily living even though I appear to be capable of doing these tasks which I’ve done all of my life.
I feel like there are so many tasks and I can’t do all of them at once, so I become paralyzed with fear and eventually I just give up. The doctors term this apathy because that is what appears to be to them. It is a much more complicated than that.
Now, my characters and ideas aren’t screaming at me. They haven’t left me. I spend much more time in silence now, contemplating, using Theeravada Buddhist mindfulness practices and saying prayers. This has opened up a world to me that many people cannot see because they are so busy living their lives and caught up in mortality, and noise.
I am not through using my words. Selch is by my side, my life partner, helping me to pull expressions out that use to flow freely.
As Tony wrote, especially now in this world today, good honest communication is how we sustain and grow and solve the problems we are having in this country and in the world. We were given the freedom of speech by God. It is a gift that can be taken away. Please use it wisely for ourselves and our future generations.