Hamlet, toying with Polonius and anxious that he be branded as mad, paces the hall at Elsinore, a book clutched in his hand. When asked what he was reading, he uttered the famous line, “Words, words, words.’ He spoke truth.
We live in a whirl of them. We read them, shred them, ignore them, toss them about lightly, weigh them, weep over them, long for them... We could go on endlessly analyzing the place of words in our lives. But, best of all, we can delight in them.
Centuries ago, men gathered just for the joy of conversation. The coffee houses, prelude to clubs of a later era, were the gathering places for men of distinction to share their thoughts. (Women had to go elsewhere.) Then, newspapers put an end to them as well.
I thought of that as I sat at my desk and looked at the means whereby words could come into my life: I have a telephone, a computer, a Kindle, a cell phone and two ears should a person cross my threshold. Each offers a perilous path to misunderstanding.
Written words lack the inflection a human voice can give. Electronic words lack the face that can change everything with an expression of joy or anger. It is dangerous to hit the “Send” button if one is in an emotional state.
Walk the streets of New York and every pedestrian is deeply involved with the words he or she is reading or sending or inadvertently sharing with all in earshot of the speaker.
What would have happened if Jesus had walked the roads of Galilee with his phone in hand, ears plugged to the voices around him, eyes on his miniature keyboard... I laughed to picture it. It was his voice that has come down to us, translated, of course, but his tones as he reacted with those around him. How many would have followed him if he had sent them text messages instead of his looking them in the eye and saying, “Come, follow me.”
For one hour today be conscious of the words you give and the ones you receive. Are they just “words, words, words,” or are they real communication? What is your next step?