Opinion: Choosing words carefully


Each day, we average humans deploy about 16,000 words. Of the species, females tend to use a few more, but for the most part, we are hitting about two hours, if it were contiguous, of daily talking. Most of us manage to speak at a pace of about 100 to 150 words per minute.

According to an analysis of TED talks, famed self-help guru Tony Robbins tops out at 201 words in the same 60 seconds. Auctioneers stand out at 250, and the fastest talker on record made it to 655. It seems that we have a lot to say.

American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson is known for lamenting, “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” If what we do is eminently more important, why do we have to talk so much about it? We all want to be trusted. There is a great advantage to it. It’s even conceivable to believe that most of us want to be trustworthy, although being such often leads to folks lining up to seek our help and support. As such, are we using our many words to convince people of our virtue or to deceive them with our vice? If actions speak so deafeningly, why are we hearing all the chatter?

We deeply want to connect with others. So even if actions speak most forcefully, they can often be misunderstood or misconstrued. Did we bring the bananas to the office pitch-in because we care about people and want them to be healthy, or because we thought the cake was too fattening for the already obese co-workers? Words can help to define our acts. But if it matters what we say and what we say matters, why aren’t we more careful about the words that cross our lips?