Nothing You Say Is Neutral

…We are all of us preachers, in private or public capacities. We have no sooner uttered words than we have given impulse to other people to look at the world, or some small part of it, in our way. — Richard Weaver.


Richard Weaver was born in Asheville, NC, and is one of the very few nationally-recognized Southern rhetoric scholars. He actually spent most of his professional life at the University of Chicago, teaching English Composition to freshman, an important, but not exactly thrilling task.

What I want to share about Weaver, whom I greatly admire, is that he, and many other communication scholars agree that language is never neutral. If you speak, there is a reason behind that decision. If you ask someone to pass you the salt, it is because you seek acquiescence to your desire to salt your food.

Even people who use a lot of words to say seemingly little, seek something (perhaps attention?) through their chatter.

The trick is to notice is whether the words indicate the entire meaning. Remember words make up only 7% of the message and not all people are congruent in their use of words. That means that they say something, but mean something entirely different. As in, “I’m FINE!”

Last Saturday, on our day at Coquina Beach, I told our crew, “We’re going to the bathroom, in the car.” What I meant to say, great communication coach that I am was, “We’re going to the place where the bathroom is located, in the car.” As Mark Twain said, there is much difference between lightning bugs, and lightning.

If you’re not clear about a message you’re receiving, ask for clarification. And if you’re not sure your message is being properly received, you need to clarify for your audience.

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