Sunday, August 11, 2013

Hot Air, Hot Words

Words, those spidery combinations of horizontal and vertical lines, circles and semi-circles, are perhaps the most powerful tools the human brain has ever invented. With them we can make love and war, build and destroy. Yet we treat them in such a cavalier manner that often what we meant to say and what we end up saying are so far apart that we change the world, or stop change from happening.

Words are what I have depended on for my living for as long as I have been working. Other things too, of course. Drawings, pictures, sounds all played a part in what I have done in my life, but words were the first tools I learned to use. In that I don’t think I am so very different from others. Learning to speak, to communicate, is the essence of being human. Even those deprived of speech, or sight, or sound strive to make use of words one way or another. But if it is such a natural, normal toolkit to use why do we have so much trouble making ourselves understood?

It all goes back to words and how we use them. Demagogues, promoters, politicians, or people who truly believe what they say, pick and chose words to try to convince others that there is only one way, one code, one answer to the great questions of the day. The truth is, even the most provable of theories is subject to change. Not interpretation, but change. As new discoveries are made, new knowledge gained, new truths must be recognized, must displace old theories, becoming the new "conventional wisdom."

Some people are stuck with their own limited vocabulary, just as some must rely on failed or out-of-focus vision. Often the two go together, but most often it seems it is words that fail them. Fail all of us. Precision cannot be attained without work, without thought. Thinking, and then giving voice to the results, is sometimes a slow process, but much more satisfying. And while it is often great fun to parry a verbal thrust with an immediate riposte, it should be the precise, knowledgeable reply that wins the day.

Before you say something, be certain you have something to say.

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