You may know the movie “Forrest Gump,” which tells the story of a charmed man with a low IQ. Forrest meets presidents, plays ping pong in China and captains a shrimp boat. Forrest was a simple man, guided by the wisdom of his mama. “Forrest, life is like a box of chocolates,” she said. “You never know what you’re gonna get.” She taught him that you have to put the past behind you before you can move on and that you have to do the best with what God gave you.
“Mama always had a way of explaining things,” Forrest said, “so I could understand them.”
Our world is awash with words. Counting web page visits, email, blogs and other media, approximately 500,000 words pass daily in front of the average American’s eyes. Tolstoy’s War and Peace is only 460,000 words. The University of California, San Diego, says that by this year, the sum of media delivered to consumers on mobile devices and to their homes will take 15 hours a day to see or hear.
While there’s much about the era of Big Data that I enjoy, I’m not sure if all of this knowledge and information sharing is leading to greater understanding. What I do know is that our lives have a lot more noise. Now more than ever, we need deep, weighty words.
Genesis states, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:1-3 ESV).
So creation, the coming of a great light, began with a word. God spoke, and the word brought order out of the chaos.
This is a hopeful idea. Our words, too, can bring light. They can foster peace and bring illumination, but they also can create darkness. Words can wound or words can heal. If our communities are to overcome racial divisions or any number of complex problems, we’ll need the right words, spoken in the right way and at the right time.
So how can we discern the useless, transitory words from the timeless ones? Here are a few ideas:
1. Identify a few noteworthy authors, poets and thought-leaders, and dig deeper. Occupy your mind with writers who deserve a greater share of your attention.
2. Filter out the junk. Decide which words will occupy your mind and avoid everything else. A leader that I admire suggested this simple maxim: no crap. Give up the web sites that produce endless drivel and the books that numb your brain.
3. Finally, practice more face-to-face communication. It’s the most effective and powerful way to share words, and the only way we’ll ever be reconciled one to another.
We need less noise, but more words that cut to the heart and speak in ways that we can understand.