How should we judge the merit of someone’s words?
Whether justified or not, a person’s delivery matters.
People who speak confidently, draw from a strong vocabulary, and use proper grammar tend to sell their ideas more easily than those who appear uncertain and unpolished. In fact, many proclamations succeed, even though they lack merit, because of how they sound.
With that thought in mind, I offer a true story about a young woman who could capture an audience and make them remember her—only not in the way she imagined.
A Girl on a Train
A number of years ago, I’d take a commuter train between my office in the city and home in the suburbs. Using “rapid transit” didn’t shorten my hour-plus commute each way, but at least it reduced my driving time. A few of my coworkers and I also left on the same evening train, and we enjoyed talking and transitioning to our lives outside the office.
Creatures of habit, we always hopped on the same car and, like the other regulars, became familiar with a young woman who routinely got on and off between the same two stops. If not for her odd monologues, she probably would have gone unnoticed among the crowd of rush-hour commuters.
Before speaking, she always looked around to make eye contact with one person. She’d proceed with a perfectly normal, friendly greeting, pausing just a second before releasing her thoughts of the day. The operative word is thoughts.
Her first comment would reveal she was smart and hint that she might have something interesting to share. She used multisyllable vocabulary and spoke in complex sentences, so the other person often leaned in to grasp the essence of her words. After a moment or two of listening attentively, however, one realized it was no use. Her statements were disjointed. The more she said, the less sense she made.
By their reactions, most people were uncomfortable. On top of being unaccustomed to that type of encounter, they were caught off guard.
You could read their expressions:
How should I handle this?
Trapped, they would nod and smile. I never witnessed any unkindness or overreaction, which would have been unwarranted. She was neither harming anyone nor creating a disturbance.
Most of the riders were working adults, and they behaved like responsible grownups. No one told her to hush or go away. No one pointed out her irrationality. No one challenged her to explain herself.
Likewise, no one handed her a megaphone so the entire train could hear the one little thing she’d articulated that kind of sounded brilliant.
This is not to disparage any individual dealing with a psychological disorder. To be clear, I’d never attempt to diagnose her condition or imply that her purpose in the world was any less valuable than the most brilliant thinkers and orators. In fact, the young woman on the train left an indelible impression.
Despite her conversational limitations, she inspired people to be patient and compassionate. She compelled me to reassess my annoying problems at work and be grateful for my cognitive ability to solve them.
Every human being has something to teach others. What we learn is up to us. We are individually responsible for filtering and interpreting messages based on their merit.
How important is that responsibility?
Doesn’t our very survival as a species hinge on how we communicate?
May our conversations and constructs reflect wisdom—a product of compassion and discernment.
My best to you,
Sallie W. Boyles, a.k.a. Write Lady
Thoughts or questions? Please contact Sallie Boyles, owner of Write Lady Inc., to exchange ideas about effective communications and gain from professional writing and editing services. Receive monthly tips and insights by subscribing at www.writelady.com.