I read a claim today that women talk three times more than men: 20,000 words per day for women compared with 7,000 for the average man. However, more recent and credible research counters this, stating that the average adult of either sex utters about 16,000 words per day.
To get a better grasp of that number, imagine trying to count from 1 to 16,000 in one stretch. Ready? Go! 1 … 2 … 3 … 4 … 5 … 6 … 7 … 8 … 9 … 10 … 11 …
Is it sinking in yet just how large a number 16,000 words really is?
My goal today isn’t to debate who’s talking more. It’s simply to say that we are all talking an awful lot. But what are we actually saying with all those words?
Remember that words and language exist for the intended purpose of telekinesis. Mind reading. A means of allowing images, emotions – even sound, smell, taste and touch – to be formed in one brain and teleported to another. So for all of that volume of words coming out of our mouths, we certainly ought to be able to bring back to mind a multitude of those images and vibes we sent out into the world today.
But can you? Can I?
I just returned from a trip. I was states away, doing some observation and workshops. It just so happens that the event I was observing was a state-level beauty pageant: a week of preliminary nights culminating in the crowing of that state’s winning contestant, who will now move on to compete for the title of Miss America. I observed two days of this pageant, which included 12-hour rehearsals each day, followed by 3- or 4-hour performances before a live audience in a large theater.
During my stay, I was free to roam about as I wished, all the while wearing a headset so that I could listen in to the tech crew behind the scenes. With a full sound, lighting and stage crew; theater personnel; choreographers; pageant directors; county executive directors; maintenance workers; and nearly 50 competing girls, suffice it to say … I was caught in a swirling maelstrom of words. The funny thing is, even with an above-average memory, I can remember very little of the actual content of what anyone said. Rather, most of it left only a sort of visceral impression.
Some of the words were those coming across my headset or being shouted from the front to the girls on stage, largely composed of instructions and information relevant to the job or the event. But be assured that much of the twelve-hour rehearsals was not instructive.
I remember the maintenance staff being quite friendly, but I can’t for the life of me remember anything they said. Light-hearted banter and general agreement, I suppose.
But most of the interaction by far was not so congenial (and, ironically, came from among the contestants and directors who claim that “congeniality” is an important value of the competition itself).
I heard gossip. Ridicule. Sarcasm. Derision. Wheedling. Arguments. Complaining. Deception. Contempt. Demands. Tantrums.
Even the words that many of the girls sang during their performances were unmemorable. Though there was more than sufficient volume, the songs did not emanate from the stage in a way that moved anyone with their beauty or message, not because the singers lacked talent particularly, but because a larger, obscuring message was being conveyed through body language and overall demeanor: “Look at me! Aren’t I incredible? You know I am!”
You may think I’m stepping into ground where I am judging motives. In this instance, however, I don’t think that is the case. I was able to listen in on the backstage chatter from contestants before they hit the stage, to hear the petulant demands for gown fluffers and “more warm lighting in my hair,” and to watch snarls become gleaming white smiles when the lights came up. I can say with certainty that, for many contestants, all day every day was a continual “me moment.”
That said, amid this environment, the gracious few who said “thank you” to tech crew, or who exclaimed “Nice job!” to a friend who had just performed, were rare enough to stand out like fireflies in the dark.
On stage, rote questions were asked and rote answers were given (all with an air of trying to sound spur-of-the-moment). “Puppies” and “love” and “world peace” abounded. But I didn’t even see much love or peace happening in the microcosm of the theater, let alone the world. And I didn’t see a single puppy, either.
As the pageant came to a close and Monday’s workshops with the audio-visual crew got underway, words were used in wholly different ways from what I’d observed in the theater. Aside from the words that went into my own presentations, participants used their words to take some positive social risks. They shared about the recent death of loved ones and their need for community. They revealed that they only feel safe to be adventurous within a framework of structure. They expressed feeling afraid when they don’t know the answer to a question. This choice to engage in honest self-disclosure allowed others to use their words to encourage, to validate, to share ideas. It was a true dynamic, and a positive one.
I had handed out a short form before we began. The last question was “What is one word that describes how you are feeling going into this workshop?” Answers included “curious,” “anxious” and “nervous.” Yet in the post-workshop form, people reported feeling “fascinated,” “relaxed” and “beyond excited.” Their one-word descriptions had changed because of how the group had chosen to use our many words in between.
And that is my point. Words relay images, emotions, vibes. It stands to reason, then, that negative words relay negative images, emotions and vibes, spreading them like a virus. Likewise, positive and constructive words relay positive and constructive images, emotions and vibes. And wasted words are wasted opportunities altogether.
Will you use your 16,000 words today to criticize or to encourage?
To demand or to offer?
To complain or to compliment?
To cause laughter or furrowed brows?
To ease a burden or to create one?
To focus on yourself or to share the limelight with others?
Your 16,000 opportunities await. Ready? Go! 1 … 2 … 3 … 4 … 5 … 6 … 7 … 8 … 9 … 10 … 11 …
Miss America pageant 2015 communication