Diet Your Speech
Dear old and new friends,
Native American Indians typically are a people of few words and simply nod or shake their heads to express what the rest of us try to put into words. This respect for words by American Indians is also very Jewish since their spirituality treated words as the spoken breath of God! Their respect of the spoken word is shown when the Torah was translated from Hebrew into Aramaic. In the Genesis story, after God breathed into the first man’s nostrils, “Adam became a living soul,” was translated as, “Adam became a speaking spirit.”
I recall being told the Cheyenne Indians believed that at birth the Great Spirit (God) gave each infant a certain number of words, and later as an adult when the allotted number of words was used up they died! This seed of wisdom could wisely be planted by each of us who tend to talk too much and listen too little, lest while still breathing we talk ourselves to death. Spoken words are more powerful entities than we think, and when thoughtlessly used they easily become dead words. Zombie speech is the dialect used by advertisers, politicians and those neighbors who rattle off endless strings of unconscious words. Wrongly we judge the degree of intelligence of others by how quickly they answer questions. This may be a kickback to our grade school days where the “smart” kids always instantaneously gave the correct answer to teacher’s question.
President Calvin Coolidge, while no Native American Indian, was famous for his use of only a few words. At dinner once a lady sitting next to the President tried to coax him into talking with her. She said, “Mr. President, I have made a bet that I could get more than two words out of you.” Coolidge replied, “You lose!”
Let Calvin Coolidge, our patron un-saint of speaking, inspire us to speak less and listen more…to not let our speech be like long freight trains of half-empty boxcar words. Instead of words, let our eyes, face and hands speak for us. May old tight-lipped Coolidge assist us when relating a personal exciting or sad event to use a poverty of details, for an excess of them can be boring. Use silence instead of words to fill awkward empty moments in conversations or embarrassing situations. Finally, do not be so foolish as to attempt to express in words your profound love for another, since love and sorrow have deficient vocabularies.
I end with another story about Calvin Coolidge to inspire us to use brevity of speech: Upon returning from church a white house aide asked him about the topic on which the minister had preached. Coolidge paused and then replied, “Sin!” “Well, Mr. President,” inquired the aide, “what did the preacher have to say of sin?” Coolidge replied, “He was against it.”