The Limit of Words

Sometimes I tell myself that buried inside me are all the right things to say and the right choices to make.

Sometimes I think the wisdom is already planted deep in my mind, and if only I could peel back the layers I could become the wisest person in the world.

I spent the first twenty or so years of my life not speaking.  I watched from the sidelines while others played games, I stood outside the circles of conversation, I declined the invitations to the birthday parties and bowling events.

I told myself they didn’t want to see me, that they were only pretending to make me feel better.  I lied to myself.  The lens through which I was looking at the world was cracked.

But writing–when I began to type, all those thoughts came spilling out.  I had a voice.  There was something in those words inherently beautiful, something I had absolute confidence in.  It was about the only thing I believed I could do right.

When people corrected things I wrote, when they said the wording was a bit stilted or I was being too abstract, I told myself they just didn’t understand.  I had the message and I was the messenger, and they were supposed to listen to the wonderful words I was giving to them.  It was a gift, and they had to be grateful for it.  I deserved their praise.  How could they criticize me?  Didn’t they know I was going to change the world with my words?

Fast forward.  Adolescence changed to adulthood.  I learned to speak my feelings and participate with others in my own small way.  I started thinking that maybe I didn’t just have the gift of the written word.  Maybe the words I spoke were just as sacred, and people should listen to those words carefully too.  Maybe I was a prophet sent here to share the wonderful treasures embedded within my soul.  Maybe I deserved this after living in silence for so many years.

Sometimes I still think that way.  But I am learning the limit of my words.  I am learning that, even if I have the seeds of great things buried inside me, it requires the sunshine and rain of others’ thoughts and words to grow them–and maybe some day, when they’ve grown a bit more, they’ll be ready for me to share with others.

The point is that great things don’t develop in isolation.  If you want to retreat to a hermitage to discover deeper insight into the world, maybe you’ll succeed.  Maybe you’ll become the next Dalai Lama.

Or maybe you’ll find that you’re still thinking the same old thoughts, tripping over the same old problems, being the same old person.

Because we do most of our growing through friction with the people around us.  We want to be like some of them, and others we’d douse with gasoline if they caught on fire.  But all of them influence us, change us, and when we seek out the right voices (wisdom, discernment, compassion), we grow in the right direction.

We become better–different from ourselves, from our starting points.

But we can’t take that leap alone.

Maybe I will find that hermitage some day.  But until then I plan to listen more and speak less, because as much as I feel the fire of unspoken words burning inside me, I know that I must always be a student if I want to succeed.

And that’s probably a good definition of success: Finding the best teachers and learning from them.  It’s the only effective way to change.

Comments 1

  1. “Even a fool, when he holds his peace, is counted wise: and he that shuts his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.”

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