The words that shouldn’t be said

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The words that shouldn’t be said


A person speaks an average of 25,000 words a day, according to one study. Not surprisingly, women speak a bit more than average, uttering 30,000 words a day. Putting together all the words you speak every day for a year would make 130 400-page books.

Nowadays, the average number of words people speak per day may have decreased a bit because many people spend hours on social networks. Some people send and read messages all day long, and couples engage in conversation through text messages even when they are together. Now that the fingers do the talking for the mouth, the world should be a quieter place. But the world is noisier than ever.

Consider this story about the power of words. A Persian sage once told a story at a banquet about a strange spring and the tribe that drew water from it. The tribe would go to the spring to collect water in jugs, but there were insects living around the spring, and when you stepped on an insect, the water in your jug would become poisonous. Therefore, someone would walk ahead looking for insects. The Persian king could not believe the sage’s story, so the sage went to look for the tribe and collect evidence. He returned after six months and presented the king with the evidence. The king smiled and said, “Dear sage, if it took six months to find the proof, you did not have to tell the story.” From this, the sage developed a new lesson: There are four kinds of words: The first is a word you need to know and need to say. The second is a word you need to know but need not say. The third is a word you do not need to know but need to say. The last is a word you do not need to know or speak.

Most of the problems in the world originate from words that should not be said. One should be especially careful about words that leave a record, such as those on social networks. When one utters words, they may disappear, but when one writes words, they stay forever. There is no way of completely deleting one’s comments, and the words can spread in no time. That’s why the written word can be noisier than words that are spoken.

We all need to think twice - even when we say or write something. We can learn from Cardinal Richelieu, a statesman who wielded unmatched influence in 17th-century France. “Give me six lines written by the most honorable of men, and I will find an excuse in them to hang him.”

*The writer is a culture and sports news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Lee Hoon-beom
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