Few Words Where Many Could Be Spoken

Sometimes I think we greatly underestimate just how much time and effort is spent in talking to people with whom we share much in common.  It is common for people to lament that people are more likely than ever to limit their communication online to those with whom there is a lot of agreement, so that conversations exist in various echo chambers, and as someone who has the good (or bad) fortune of having all kinds of people whose discourse I pay attention to, I see this is common in all sorts of groups, where people select themselves into groups where they don’t have to do a lot of explaining of their fundamental premises and aspects of their worldview and they can just engage in the pleasant conversation that happens when people of like mind are together.  We may feel it somewhat lamentable that such like minds are not more easily found, but a great deal of the pleasure of communication comes in communicating with those who understand the basics so that one can simply engage in the amusing speculations or wonderings rather than in having to lay down the basics and fundamentals every time one communicates.

There are only a few conditions where one can sensibly write or say few words.  Some of these situations occur when the situation is awkward enough where few words are demanded, and where few words could be said even where one wanted to say more.  At other times we are in such a mad rush that there is little time for many words and so few words are all that can be spoken.  In some fashion, a personal essay like this one or one of the meditations of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius would qualify as a situation like this, where words are small because they are snatched among a life filled with all kinds of busy activity that prevents one from writing at length to the extent that one may prefer.  And another such circumstance is when one is dealing with fellow insiders where one can make knowing winks and gestures and allusive inside jokes in the knowledge that everyone else has the context to understand what is being said.  The fun of such communication is dramatically diminished when someone has to explain the joke to someone who doesn’t get it.

Indeed, it is precisely when other people do not get it that communication becomes an awful and unrewarding chore rather than a pleasure.  As is true in many areas of life, when communication is most desperately needed to communicate across wide chasms of disagreement and misunderstanding, it is the least enjoyable to communicate with others, precisely because one must clear the ground and explain many things that are either frustrating or embarrassing to go into that one would rather allude to but cannot because of the lack of mutual understanding.  Many people, myself included [1], are quite content to leave things awkwardly silent rather than to openly discuss areas of discomfort and embarrassing.  It is sad to admit that one lacks the moral courage to have uncomfortable conversations but I have found it to be frequently the case, largely because I value peace more than I value letting others know exactly where they stand, especially because I regularly and habitually do not wish to be entirely understood.

What I find particularly intriguing is how common these problems exist.  It is not merely in our social media habits that these same phenomena exist to make certain communication burdensome and thus not undertaken even where it is most needed for people to come to terms with each other, but the same problems exist between friends, family members, romantic relationships and marriages, dealing with brethren in one’s church or coworkers or any number of other situations.  The same tension about how to use one’s few words exists when writing an awkward e-mail at work as it does when preparing a sermonette message for church, and wondering if the context exists to address the sort of topic one would want to or whether one must be content to pick a small subject where one can go into the level of detail necessary to explain things to people who do not understand or necessarily agree with where one is coming from.  When we are dealing with a question where there is insufficient context for us to say a lot in a little, we must content ourselves with saying more words than we would wish to convey only a little bit of that we want to tell, and the same is true for others, in that we only hear and grasp a little of what others wish to convey to us, and that is itself only a little bit of what we would want to be told, if it was agreeable to us at least.

[1] See, for example:








About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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