When Less Is More Reflecting on the Use of Words

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When Less Is More Reflecting on the Use of Words

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Turn on the news for two minutes and study politicians in action.

Listen to one of them deliver a speech, and then analyze it word by word. Often the politician's statements come out so muddled that one wonders what the substance was.

Compare this to word usage in daily life. It may seem good to always state an opinion. However, "free speech" does not mean that we're obliged to speak freely without thinking ahead. Words are not just empty constructions—they have meanings that affect people.

The Bible's advice on words

According to Scripture, the quantity of words should not be the goal, but the quality. It is so much better to say the right thing at the right time instead of saying what first comes to mind.

Words of encouragement and genuine admiration are often a real boost to others: "To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!" (Proverbs 15:23, English Standard Version throughout).

A fool's many words

I was fascinated by the following verse in Ecclesiastes, a book highly recommended for a young person to read through: "Even when the fool walks on the road, he lacks sense, and he says to everyone that he is a fool" (Ecclesiastes 10:3). For more insight, be sure to read "Ecclesiastes: The Thinking Young Adult's Guide to Life."

As applied to today, it could be someone's constant talk in the lunch room (or a never-ending call on the mobile phone on the bus) that makes other people seriously wonder if this person came with a built-in power switch.

Therefore, there are times when it is better to quietly refrain from giving an opinion on everything—no matter how well intended it is. Likewise, there are times when we cannot afford to remain silent but have to speak up. The first case is probably far more common though—some would say it happens on a daily basis.

Even if your opinion is perfectly sensible and right, is the other person prepared to consider your words or will what you say be rejected without receiving proper thought? "Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words" (Proverbs 23:9).

If you do speak to a fool, he or she will produce plenty of words: "A fool multiplies words, though no man knows what is to be, and who can tell him what will be after him?" (Ecclesiastes 10:14, emphasis added throughout).

Listen first, speak less

To actively listen to someone is not only courteous but can save us from making major mistakes further down the road. Often we may not be informed of all the facts or have understood properly how things are connected in a situation. After all, no one knows everything! We can learn from the experiences and instructions of others, like our parents—provided we hear them out first.

"If you have been foolish, exalting yourself, or if you have been devising evil, put your hand on your mouth" (Proverbs 30:32). In our age of blogs, Twitter and e-mail, the admonition could just as well read "remove your hands from the keyboard."

Attempting to explain foolish behavior can make things worse. Usually a genuine "I'm sorry" can be all it takes to put a matter to rest.

With words, less is often more. VT