My tongue is my enemy

The conversation will turn to something I’ve been working on and I’ll get excited. “Here’s a chance to test my idea. To see how he responds to it.” So I try to explain the observation or chain of thought.

Usually, I botch it and have to rework my position. Which is fine. Certain forms of conversation are like sparring for the mind. They are opportunities for training. And as Orson Scott Card says in the intro to Ender’s Game: “The essence of training is to allow error without consequence.” Conversation with an ally is one of the greatest embodiments of this idea. Where can you better test ideas-in-progress?

But there are places where the testing of ideas-in-process is less okay. I’m beginning to think that some forms of writing are such a place. As is most types of shallow interaction that occur throughout the day.

Yesterday, on the train back from London, I was creating an action plan. Thinking about what to focus on after my book is released. One of my objectives is to begin research on my next book. I decided that it would be best to keep the research free form and uninhibited. To not commit myself to any structure, narrative or aim. Not until I know more about the subject of my research. 

Underneath the cluster of notes about remaining non-committal, I wrote three words: comprehension before communication. This seems like an admirable guideline for a book. Don’t talk about what you don’t know. Don’t speak until you understand. 

But now that I think about it, it fits well to a much bigger arena. We all have opinions. About big and little matters. We judge the parents who can’t control their kids. We give our thoughts on the decline of US politics. We pontificate on technology and education and philosophy. Yet, just a small percentage of these expressions of ideas are fully baked. 

Most of the time, the words we speak, the answers we provide and the advice we give is reactive, impulsive, and unconsidered. We speak before we understand. We speak before we think.

For the last few weeks, a phrase has been rattling around my mind. I don’t know if I read it somewhere. Or if I’ve bastardised a more eloquent expression. But the five words are: “My tongue is my enemy.”

In a world where everyone talks and no-one thinks, there’s an advantage in not talking. In a world of noise, creating more noise doesn’t distinguish you. Silence speaks with more authority than empty words.

That’s why you should seek comprehension before you attempt to communicate. Why you should seek understanding before you speak. Why your tongue is your enemy. Because your words betray your lack of thought.