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040 - On Composure - Moral Letters for Modern Times

Just as the glib speaker fools the lazy listener, so we mistake fervor in argument for conviction, and conviction for correctness.
Path with mountains in background - Moral Letters to Lucilius
Photo by James Bellerjeau

It is a pleasure to receive your letters, though I repeat myself in saying it. I know that when you address me in this way, you are giving me your attention and more: you are giving me an insight into your mind, so that I may mark your progress. A letter reveals much, and what has been written can no longer be hidden, from yourself or from your reader. And if I recognize in your words the unveiling of a fellow mind, it is because your letters bring to mind our conversations so well.

Don’t fall in love with the sound of your own voice, Deuteros. People who are facile with words risk remaining only superficial thinkers. This is because they can talk their way around any obstacle, without regard to whether they have addressed the substance of their opponent’s argument. They can dazzle and confuse with their eloquence, and because they are quick on their feet, the listener assumes they are correct in their conclusions.

But why should something done quickly be considered done well? Yes, efficiency and productivity deserve our praise, but not in all things. And just as you can take an obsession over detail too far, so can you exaggerate in moving quickly. In what area of human endeavor do we praise the slapdash effort as the best one? Would you rather your painter spilled out color at great volume regardless of who or what gets splattered in the process? Or do you prefer the professional who carefully tapes off what they are working on and painstakingly addresses every detail?

Keep your wits about you, and let the wags rattle on. Just as the glib speaker fools the lazy listener, so we mistake fervor in argument for conviction, and conviction for correctness. Shall we not be a little wary of the one who rages and foams at the mouth? Is their point made stronger by being delivered strongly? If we shower our audience in spittle, do we expect them to lean in for more, or to lean away?

Logorrhea of speaking or writing, with its diarrhea of words and repetition, is unpleasant to hear or read. And it is not just unconvincing for all its volume. The more words you spill out, the more you will open yourself to criticism. A carefully tended chain of thought has fewer, but stronger links. An argument that stretches on for miles will be easily broken at many points, and so the whole of the journey may be called into question.

My core message is this: think long and speak short. Spend so much time in the company of your thoughts, that you can deliver them briefly.

Be well.

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