Words are hard to use, right? I mean, I think it’s hard to write stuff and say stuff because you never know how people are going to, like, take it. There’s this one essayist, I like him, named Wendell Berry. He wrote this essay called “Standing by Words,” which sounds like it could be good, but I don’t know if I can really go along with it.
He says there are these three rules for using language:
1. It must designate its object precisely.
2. Its speaker must stand by it: must believe it, be accountable for it, be willing to act on it.
3. This relation of speaker, word, and object must be conventional; the community must know what it is.
Do you see what I mean, though? Every reason is a “must.” I think I wanna say these are helpful, but I don’t want to be bossy about what others must do. In fact, I kinda like the approach he describes of these other guys in the essay. They say that our communication should not be evaluative because evaluative communication is judgmental; it makes people respond defensively. They say we should be either descriptive or provisional, right?
Descriptive is, like, safe. It doesn’t make judgments, you know? I mean, descriptive communication would rather say, “I don’t like it” than it would say, “It’s bad.” Provisional communication is, well I think, a bit tougher. It draws conclusions but makes them tentative, right? Instead of dogmatic, you know?
See, when I communicate this way, I don’t have to worry about designating my object precisely, or standing by my words, or being conventional, right? If at any point someone, like, gets defensive or offended by my words, I can just be, like, “You know? I was just saying. I don’t really know.”
If we only communicate this way, then no one will ever get mad, right? There is nothing to be defensive about; there are no problems.
Unless we use words precisely, with conviction, and with understanding, I am just not sure we will ever actually say anything worth listening to. I am just not sure our words will be meaningful. When we speak we must believe, we must be accountable, and we must be willing to act on our words in order for communication to be meaningful and worth listening to.