At least 1 million words are in our dictionary. One study has found that the average 20-year-old American knows as many as 42,000 words. But 42,000 is just a fraction of the words we could use. We reduce our vocabulary even more by using significantly fewer of those words when we verbally communicate with each other. Our reduced vocabulary puts limits on our ability to communicate. Regrettably, we have even more problems with words!
Words often mean different things to different people. Words have different emotional impact. To say, “That really makes me mad” may signify to one person that you are irritated, and to another it may be a frightening warning of a volatile explosion soon to come. People often are more focused on their feelings than they are the words we say, and therefore care more about how we make them feel than anything else.
Then, of course, we tend to comment on things that are either none of our business or things we know nothing little to nothing about, so our words are not always factual. Words often have less than precise meanings, so when we step away from “yes” and “no”, it can get quite confusing.
We also often make mistakes at times when we speak. Most of us have misspoken at one time or another and said something stupid or cruel. Do we always really mean it? No. We often say things under the influence of our fleeting emotions.
I could go on and on. Wouldn’t it be handy to simply have a way to transfer information and feelings from one person’s mind to another? Actually, that in itself would really cause problems unless we had a way to be very selective. I remember Mel Gibson in WHAT WOMEN WANT was in trouble all the time because he was picking up the exact thoughts and feelings of the women around him!
All of these thoughts remind me that words can be very difficult because they really matter. We should work hard on ourselves to be as kind and precise and careful as we can with our communication. But, because we know words are difficult, we should cut each other a little slack from time to time with how we feel about someone who has violated us with words. We need to realize that neither we nor our language is perfect. Responding with kindness and asking for more information has a better chance of improving communication than responding with words of our own that may multiply problems.
Perhaps we should just pray this prayer:
“Lord, fill my mouth with worthwhile stuff, and nudge me when I’ve said enough.”
Or, David said it more eloquently:
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14.