I’m a speaker and a writer. That means I care about words. I suppose we all do. I recently attended an international meeting that heightened my awareness of how we use words. Because the meeting included people from 23 countries that covered 5 continents we spoke many different languages and had simultaneous translations into 4 languages. When I got past the Tower of Babel, it reminded me of Pentecost when the apostles spoke their own language but were understood by people speaking many different tongues. Translations aren’t always perfect, but being translated and interacting with people who speak other languages taught me a lot about words. For example:

  • I’m too wordy. Many people are. Even introverts who typically think before they speak, can get caught up in over-explaining. I pride myself in getting to the point in both my speaking and writing, but I realized that because I was being translated it was important to use fewer words and to choose them carefully. This can hamper spontaneity but better to be heard than to have a whole sentence missed. Letting go of using too many words is a skill worthy of a Living Lightly blog.
  • Stretch to understand people. Many people at my conference spoke English as a second language. This meant it took more work on my part to understand a person who was not a native speaker. This limited in-depth communication, but forced me to find words that captured the basic meaning and to listen more carefully through unfamiliar accents. This same principle applies to English speakers in the USA whose language sounds different because of geography, class, age, or different life experiences.
  • Not everything has to be said. Some of the most memorable communication took place without words. We played “follow the leader” walking hand in hand to go through complicated corridors to a destination. We danced together (often awkwardly but laughing) at the evening cultural nights. We drew pictures, hugged, and watched people wipe tears from their eyes at sad or joyful moments.
  • Eating together is universal communication. Although I hesitated to sit with people at meals who I knew did not speak English, occasionally I took the risk. Not much was said, but smiles and exchanging names connected us – until a multilingual person could join the table. My lack of languages was humbling.

The experience reminded me of Mindfulness of Words – one of the virtues that as a Lay Marianist I seek to grow in. This used to be called “Silence of Words” but has evolved to an understanding that using words well is not just about silence, but also knowing when and how to speak with intentionality and love,

At the risk of repeating myself (which would be inconsistent with trying to limit unnecessary words) , I decided to check if I had ever blogged on “Letting go of Words” before. Indeed, I had. Click here for additional insights. What aspect of speaking or silence do you struggle with? What has helped you make your words count?