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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Hos: To Say, To Speak, To Mean

In a world full of meaningless chatter, what is it that we are truly trying to say?

There is no piece of advice more profound than to think before speaking. Yet this aforementioned wisdom has merely become an age-old adage — one that is mindlessly repeated by exasperated parents to their children in exactly the same manner that it was mindlessly repeated to them. The problem isn’t necessarily the cyclical nature of such advice, but rather the deaf ears onto which it falls, for the implications of forgoing this lesson are such that they fundamentally impact the influence and value that society places unto speech. When people simply speak in order to have something to say, any and all words begin to lose their meanings. Our problem: Are we, as a society, assigning relevance to words with actual meaning? Or are the words that we revel in mere nonsense, meant only to dispel the looming prospect of silence?

I’ll admit that the desire to speak without having anything of substance to say is incredibly appealing — and a scroll through one’s timeline on Twitter or a short stroll around campus will confirm that it’s a desire that people indulge in regularly. It’s a trap that I myself have fallen into more times than I can count, and there have been times when I’ve caught myself mid-sentence pronouncing the syllables to words that I believe hold no true significance. In reality, what difference does it make to the world that I hated the sandwich I bought at Novack or that I’m tired — both of which, though they may be true, are usually said just to fill the silence. And I know, from listening to others and myself, that such words are uttered daily — these words without much meaning, these ones without much thought. Of the roughly 16,000 words we speak per day, how many are just abject phrases thrown around without any regard? 

Perhaps our initial problem lies rooted in another: It may be that our tendency to speak without forethought is propelled by an instinctual fear of uncertainty. There’s an aspect to silence that can feel unbearable, and it’s often easier to fill that void with your own familiar words (even when unnecessary) than to wait with trepidation for the inevitable, foreign ideas of others. It’s only natural that when confronted with the unknown, we will express the urge to do anything — or rather say anything — to avoid it. The problem is that words are not toys for us to play with as recklessly as we do; rather, they are notions of power that reveal intent and should be treated as such. With just a brief look into the propaganda of any war throughout history, one can truly understand the effects that words have over our lives. If words hold the power to turn the sentiments of entire civilizations against one another, who are we to use them so carelessly? 

This piece isn’t an attack on the principle of free speech. I’m neither asking for people to stop speaking freely nor am I advocating for a world of oppressive silence in which only those with words deemed “worthy” can let them be known. In fact, free speech is crucial to the argument at stake, for without the ability to express oneself and communicate a message — a value that I would argue is an essential aspect of human nature — there would be no meaning to be found in one’s words or beyond. Our written and spoken words are vital in communicating the necessary changes and innovations for our society to flourish, and while there is inherently no problem at stake with the concept of speech — for what a bland and boring world it would be if we didn’t talk to one another — there seems to be a disconnect in the nuances and meanings that we assign to these words. 

Speaking freely is what allows us to form meaningful relationships. However, if one’s words fail to convey his or her true intentions, then the foundations on which such connections are formed are inherently faulty. It seems that all anyone can do is complain about the superficial nature of relationships, yet I can only ask: How can one expect authenticity when our dialogue is not always genuine in its intent? Why is it, then, that we continue to lie and mask our words with emotions that we’ve never even felt? The reality is such that if we wish for others to understand what it is that we truly mean, then we must literally say what it is that we are trying to communicate. 

All that I’m asking is that we be mindful as individuals of the true power behind the words that we use. It only takes a second to speak a word into existence, but each one spoken carries a lifetime of meaning. Like the ripple of a stone skipped across the water, our words have an impact far beyond ourselves. Revel in that knowledge, and let each word that you speak from here on out feed the collective soul, and carry with it a sense of honor and intention. As we continue to contribute to the global conversations that shape our future, let our words be ones not of mindless distraction and nonsense, but rather those with meaning — ones that promote the peace, love, and beauty of our world and those who inhabit it.