Fear Kills Talk
( Originally Published 1916 )
THE joy of talk is to say what you please.
Any restraint upon the free expression of whatever pops into your mind kills conversation.
Conversation becomes a bore when people are saying what they are supposed to say. Then it is no more the free mingling of souls, for each is posing. It is dress parade.
I would rather hear a man swear than to be entertained by some one who is working at me from a sense of duty.
When you have to be careful what you say, the only refuge is silence.
Hence parsons, college presidents, and all those in high office, who are likely to be quoted, and whose chance words may upset that terrible creature known as the "young person," must take one of two alternatives; either they must speak rarely and be mindful to say nothing when they do speak, or they must practice the handling of bromidions and avoid saying anything that is fresh or has sharp corners.
New-minted speech is only for the irresponsible. Slang words especially, being the babes of language, such words as will not for years be permitted to associate with their elders, are to be used by people of no standing.
The conversation of children, when they are by themselves, or among such grown persons as put them under no bond of fear, is the most interesting of all talk. They say things that are immensely funny, that are stuffed with ingenuous feeling and piquant with rare philosophy; and for but one reason, that they do not care.
It is fear that blights talk, as it nips in the bud all flowers of the soul.
Let us stretch our legs under the table, and until long after midnight crack our jokes, tell our pet hates and loves, expose our doubts, air our heresies, give wing to our fancies, gossip freely of the neighbors, and preen our comfortable vanities, and so will our souls empty themselves and become clean vessels, holding over till to-morrow no stagnant opinions to breed spiritual malaria.
I once peddled maps, when young, and learned a speech by rote, which I repeated to every victim. By and by I came to loathe it. Also it became deliciously absurd. Which is a reasonable contradiction.
And I never go to a reception, or tea, or other regulated talkfest, and listen to the usualities bandied back and forth with well-tempered laughter, but I think of that map-peddling rigmarole, and wonder why the whole company does not break out into Gargantuan laughter at itself.
The better way for us would be to hold no speech at all with them from whom we expect fear or favor, only make signs, and reserve our frank openings of heart for those whom we owe nothing, for those who take our chatter for amusement only.
For the rest, let us read books, or newspapers, or attend lectures. Why talk when we are afraid ?