I was on my high school's yearbook staff for the three years. The teacher who supervised us reserved one of his room's whiteboards for the sole use of communication between yearbook members. A week or two before my junior year ended, I got a totally random thought that I felt inclined to make public, so I drew a box on the yearbook board, labeled it "Kyle Sez:" and then wrote my random thought in the box. A few days later, I got another random thought, so I erased the first one and put my new thought in the Sez's box. By the end of the school year, I had put four or five different thoughts in the box, and I was starting to get attention from some of my peers who had the yearbook adviser for English.
At the beginning of my senior year, I decided that I was going to write an original thought on the yearbook board every day that I came to school--and I did. "Kyle Sez:" became a daily ritual and acquired a small following; every morning, I would go into the classroom to update The Sez, and I would always find a few random students hanging out, waiting to see what I would write.
I figure that I created 187 or 188 different original thoughts for The Sez. At the request of my more devoted readers, I typed up an anthology at the end of my senior year. It is, sadly, incomplete because, when I first started out, I kept no record of what I had written, but by brainstorming with my readers, wracking my brain, and piecemealing the various records I did have, I was able to collect 180 different sayings for my anthology, which I printed several copies of and handed out to anyone who wanted one.
As I flip through that anthology now, I realize that nearly all of those sayings are completely nonsensical, that most aren't even very amusing, and that some are subconscious ripoffs of things that have been said before. Nevertheless, there are a couple that I still consider to be pretty good, and the overall achievement is, I think, fairly impressive.
Today, I would like to discourse a bit--pontificate, if you will--on one of those sayings that I came up with back when der Schmetterling was still das Gleiskettenfahrzeug (German for caterpillar):
Just 'cuz somebody talks good don't mean they say good.
Herein lies the paradox of this post. I am about to tell you that most writers and speakers aren't worth listening to because they don't have anything worth saying. To do so, I am going to tell you what makes something worth saying, and by the definitions I set forth, I am going to exclude myself from the pool of people that have something worth saying. So the paradox is this: if I am right, then what I'm saying isn't worth listening to.
So, that's the preface to what promises to be one of my lengthier posts. If the paradox confounds you, feel free to stop here.
I love writing. Written language is my preferred medium for communication. When I write, I have the opportunity to revise and to perfect before what I say reaches my audience; when I actually speak to someone, once the words have left my mouth, all is finalized. I find it very unfair, then, that spoken language exceeds the written word so much in potency. Speech offers the powers of inflection, volume, and timing in ways that writing cannot. It makes me very sad that the more careful and calculated mode of communication is the less powerful, but I suppose it makes sense.
I said that I love writing; I suppose that total honesty would encourage me to broaden the statement a bit. I love to communicate; I love to be heard; I thrive upon knowing that people are paying attention to me. When people are experiencing my thoughts being presented in my way, all is well in my world.
Throughout my academic career, my instructors and peers have lauded my writing. Writing is my passion, the only pastime I've ever really had, so I accept with great gratitude that Justice saw fit to reward my exorbitant amount of practicing with some small ability. Popular sentiment also holds that I fare well when I attempt public speaking; the most memorable compliment I received in that regard was given to me after I delivered a speech in a church meeting back in my days of missionarying when a couple of middle-aged men came up to me at the conclusion of the meeting and said, "It's too bad you're a Mormon missionary, Elder, 'cuz you'd make a fantastic Baptist minister."
In response to these, my kindly encouraging critics, I say that I most emphatically disagree. Though I concede that my writing and speaking are occasionally very smart, they are usually not very good; that a person may write or speak well does not necessarily mean that they write or speak good, and this is the distinction I wish to emphasize.
I hesitate somewhat at this juncture and must admit that I am quite nearly embarrassed by the verbiage I am about to employ. I will soon present three qualities as nonnegotiable elements of good communication. Though I do, of course, assert their validity, the appellations I have chosen for them are, I fear, painfully bromidic. I do not believe that the ideas that I am trying to present are timeworn, but the only sensible names I could create for them are grossly overused. Nevertheless, I lack the creativity to do better (further attempts along that line produced results that were even more laughable), so the nomenclature I've contrived must suffice. Therefore, I propose that the three nonnegotiable qualities of every good communication are Mind, Heart, and Soul.
"Mind" refers to the technical aspect of communication--syntax, grammar, punctuation, spelling or pronunciation, and all the other technicalities that send the red pens scrawling; it also entails the soundness of the argument made, the strength of the evidences presented, and the overall flow of logic throughout the piece. Mind is the least important of the three nonnegotiable qualities; knowing when to use a semicolon or how to draw a truth table may impress some entry-level professors, and sophistry shows that even half of Mind is enough to persuade the masses, but pure communication requires more than steely reasoning and perfect form.
The Heart of a work is its intrinsic magic, its charm. To produce a work that has Heart requires the creator to be passionate and imaginatitive, to love the work and be excited by it. Heart refers to the creativity and the likability of the work. Had I more Heart, I certainly could have come up with more interesting names for these qualities--perhaps Mind would have been Cunning, and Heart would have been Muse--but here the blatancy of my lack of Heart immediately reveals itself, and I force myself--for the good of this work and to protect my dear readers--to stop digging for Heart where there is naught but Mind.
I will now introduce you to [Dameon]. [Dameon] is my supervisor at work, and he has Heart. Today he started telling me about an idea he has for a fantasy novel. I have repeatedly declared my position regarding speculative fiction on this blog, namely, I find it to have so little relevance to real life and the human condition that it completely fails to interest me, so I was more than a little leery as he launched into his narrative. But [Dameon] has Heart, and it didn't take long for me to become completely absorbed in his story--his effect was so entrancing that I followed him around for the duration of my shift, captivated by the tale. I was so distressed when he finished by informing me that the ending was undecided that I besieged him with ideas until he gave me a tenuous conclusion.
I left work, feeling pensive, unable to understand how I could be so taken by such a fantasy--especially a mostly conceptual fantasy wherein so little was more than vaguely defined. I concluded that the enthusiasm and love [Dameon] told his story with was engaging--engaging enough to persuade me to willingly suspend my disbelief for far longer than my intolerance for such romanticism usually allows. Because he cared about the plot, I cared about the plot; because he loved his characters, I did, too. And because the story was so original, so unlike most of the speculative fiction I've known, it was new and exciting, and I wanted to know its entirety; such is the power of Heart.
Heart makes the difference between photo captions and poetry, forums and pep rallies, reciting and acting. If a work has enough Heart, many people will forgive its lack of Mind; the Mind of a work only has value inasmuch as it supports the work's Heart.
The Soul of a work is the most important quality of all. Communication is the conveyance of ideas from one individual or group to another; if there is no idea to communicate, the venture is a failure. I have written many essays by assignment in which I merely collected the known facts on the topic and drew already-established conclusions and thereby produced fine works of Mind that were sufficiently satisfactory to my instructors but that did absolutely nothing to edify them or me. I have created pretty little poems and cute little stories that were full of Heart but lacked so much in meaning that they were nothing more than whited sepulchers blighting the purity of a clean page. Without meaning, without the honest intention to uplift or improve, without Soul, a work is utterly worthless. If a person has nothing to say, they should not speak.
Soul is a hard quality to cultivate. It requires, more than experience, the wisdom gained by understanding the meaning and implications of experiences, and it also requires the prudence to know when to share such wisdom--and to whom. I recently had a deeply personal conversation via email with [V], a revered and trusted mentor of mine. I started the conversation; I sent her an email to thank her for some help that she had given me. I felt that my email was very well written--I meant what I said (Soul), said it honestly and poignantly (Heart), and, above all, minded my p's and q's to ensure that it shone with all the luster of a work produced by a neurotically careful author (Mind, Mind, Mind, Mind, Mind)--I was really proud of it and was certain [V] would be impressed with my eloquence in thanking her.
[V]'s response to my measly wordmongering impacted me in ways that I cannot describe. Her simple honesty, humble wisdom, and powerful insights affected me so personally that, with a glance to Doctrine and Covenants' 68th section, I'm tempted to call it scripture! Her writing was not free from technical error, but its imperfections were insignificant enough that the Soul of the email (the truths she was trying to express) shone through completely uninhibited. Perhaps the Mind of [V]'s email wasn't entirely flawless, but its sincerity of Heart (displayed by her perfect candor and honest concern) and the lucidity of its Soul made it the most beautiful work that I have ever read.
To communicate truth with such clarity and power is a feat of Soul that I can no more than aspire to achieve, but I believe that to do so ought to be the quintessential desire of any person inclined to speak or write.