Sub-principles: best words, felicity,
prudence, eloquence, rumor & gossip
I will say what I must; though I will use few words and small words, and correct words, and considered words, and deliberate words, and known words, and our words and few words again.
And I will speak always of others as though they are hearing everything I say about them. And I will listen to others speak of others with my head turned slightly to one side, as though my attendance is on matters more important than gossip, and ready to turn aside altogether at the faintest hint of slander. I would even walk away…without saying a word. For this is how we may more truly “put away the evil from Israel.”
What have I really to say of any worth, when my silence is more suggesting of what is real than the vain utterances of these paltry years of experience and life? It would be better to mutely live well than to vainly speak as poorly as I do now. My father’s must bones at the bottom of the sea are more suggestive of what is true than any living proclamation or considered certitude of what is real.
But I must speak. I cannot, not communicate, though I know that “every message sent is not the message received.” Therefore, to guard others from my folly I will speak few words, and small words and known words and our words, and to the best of my ability true words. And I will speak always and only as though the ones about whom I might speak are standing near to hear what I say. And I will say what I must neither to defame or flatter those whom I imagine might hear. And then I will stop my speaking–and I will then instead listen. And I will listen carefully, and fully, and without a mind to speak.
The Principle of Public Speaking
I recently added a new principle to The Good Life which I call the Principle of Public Speaking. The idea is to always imagine that anyone about whom I am talking is beside me, overhearing everything I say about them. In this way, I hope to enlist the normal courtesy and good manners we mostly all follow in not speaking ill or untoward of anyone to their face. Mostly, this strategy works; though sometimes I forget my plan and gossip about someone in ways I hope they never hear. It is an imperfect objective to never gossip about others, though a quite worthwhile aim to improve and strive towards.
Mostly, I think we gossip for the usual reason... Well, it is a usual reason for me, at least; and I am becoming suspicious it is also the usual reason for you as well...for all of us, in fact. We wish to distract ourselves with life. We distract ourselves with the busyness of everything that occupies our mind: We go to school, and work, and make friends, and engage in fun and games and intrigue and drama and watch TV and clean the house and go shopping and take a nap or a walk or play with the dog, or raise kids and create a home and plan for retirement and then get old and perhaps pine for our youth and mull over regrets and how things could have been and tell ourselves of the better life to come when this veil of tears is done...and then we die. All the while we are distracting ourselves from the nothing which looms around our everything. We pretend with our many ways of living that there is no nothing behind and not supporting it all. We imagine we are not indeed floating in space; supported by no force other than gravity, which pulls inexorably towards a center of mass which is our planet, and then another center of mass which is our galaxy, and then still further centers of mass which are the galaxy clusters beyond. All aims ultimately ending within the incomprehensible depths of a galaxy cluster black hole. A mystery to be sure. A fact also to be sure...that if the universe is designed and tuned for anything...it seems to be designed and tuned for "the creation of black holes." Not us. What the hell do we make of that? These facts are almost incomprehensible... What do we make of such a place, such a home, such a purpose? I don't know...
And so, we tell each other stories, and we live our lives, and we go to school, and then find a job and take a lover and get married and make children and save for our future and our security and enjoy amusements and we get on with life. And we also talk about one another. We share gossip about our co-workers and our family and our friends and the people we see on television. And thus, the time passes by so soon... A lifetime of living and talking and gossip and distraction. Time passes until the end draws near and we hold our rosary perhaps to count beads–another distraction–until our breathing becomes so labored that we must drop the beads and simply look into the eyes of those who love us and who have come to distract us–and themselves–in our last moments with thoughts of love and togetherness and forever. And we then die and go out like candles with no further need of distraction or any other thoughts. At last we cannot avoid or distract any longer...as the thing we sought not to know is now the very thing we have not become.
We’ve then...no more need of gossip. We’ve then...no need of any distraction at all.
Words like flowers upon a table
Words are like clay in the hands of a potter, who might pound together a rough cup and offer it "here!" as an implement of utility. And so the course word cup might be useful, something to drink from and quench a thirst. The cup then is an instrument of the base end of work and living, not an end in itself as the thing our lives might strive for: beauty, understanding, rhyme and meaning even. Language as life is reserved then for museums, and the highest, darkest, and dustiest shelves of the library marked Poetry, Literature and Classics. Language as life is like a range of mountains seen in the distance, beautiful to behold from far away, something great to be sure, climbed by some, perhaps one day by me - but not today.
But the classics are here and within easy reach of our tongue, through the careful attendance to what we say, and the reserved application of our speech. An economy of well-chosen words is as beautiful to behold as a great stanza. This is especially true when just a few words can convey deep meaning, as in these simple lines from Basho:
The old pond;
A frog jumps in—
The sound of the water.
I wish that my ordinary speech might take on the character of a humble arrangement of flowers at the kitchen table: simple, unimposing, lovely to behold, revealing of the unseen optimist who has left us something worthwhile to discover and enjoy.
An economy of words
Like fresh flowers
On the kitchen table
What a worthwhile use of time— To hold my tongue until I have something true and helpful to say, and then to say it with just a few, carefully selected words, and then to withdraw again to the silent attendance of life.