KBOO 24 March 1988
A friend of mine, Alyce Cornyn-Selby, an elegant lady with a whimsical frame of mind, has written a delightful book based on the premise that all of us have been doled out a certain quota of words in life and woe betide us if we exceed the limit. The book is called ‘The Man Who Ran Out of Words’ and is about a precocious young child who learned to talk at an early age, and talked and talked and talked his way through school until when it became time for his first job interview he opened his mouth and nothing came out. He had, as she writes, ‘used up all of the words allotted to any human being, all of his “the’s,’’ all of his “I’s,’’ all of his “hum’s’’ and all of his “yes’s’’ and “no’s.’’’
For some reason Alyce’s book came to mind as I contemplated this, my 300th commentary on KBOO, perhaps because that means I must have uttered more than a quarter of a million words on the air. Fortunately for me, I don’t know if it is fortunately for you, I don’t yet seem to have run out of words. Though sometimes I come perilously close to deadline without knowing what I am to talk about, a condition aggravated of late as I am now doing a different commentary each week for another station.
In Alyce’s book the tongue-tied youngster is forced because of his affliction to listen and, as the book’s last sentence states, ‘After he really, really listened he didn’t want to talk any more.’
I try to listen and not just to what people around me are saying. I try to listen also to what God may be trying to say to me or wants me to do. I am not particularly good at either kinds of listening but the more I listen the more, unlike the youngster, I want to talk, to share the insights I glean and which I think are worth passing on.
I am also in receipt almost daily of letters and reports from all around the world of people doing extraordinary things because they, too, have decided to listen. As I travel I note down, too, the things I notice or read which I feel can kindle hope, broaden our horizons, lift our perspectives. In fact, in the very best Oregon tradition I am a recycler. Like local author Kim Stafford, I can say, ‘My function as a writer is passing on to others things that have been given to me.’
Last fall Pope John Paul II gave a largely underreported 2500 word address to representatives of the communications industry in Los Angeles. He reminded us that our work could be uplifting or debasing, we had untold possibilities for good, ominous possibilities for destruction. We had an obligation to truth and its completeness not only in coverage of news but in all our work. ‘You find a real meaning in your work,’ he said, ‘when you exercise your role as collaborators of truth in the service of justice, fairness and love.’ There was need for the opportunity for public dialogue. ‘You, as communicators, must listen as well as speak.’
The Pope also said, ‘You are more important than success, more valuable than any budget. Do not let your work drive you blindly; for if work enslaves you, you will soon enslave your art. Who you are and what you do are too important for that to happen. Do not let money be your sole concern, for it, too, is capable of enslaving art as well as souls. In your life there must also be room for your families and for leisure. You need time to rest and be re-created, for only in quiet can you absorb the peace of God.’
I hope I can maintain that sense of responsibility and that round approach His Holiness recommends.
I end my 300th commentary on KBOO in agreement with what Pascal wrote three hundred years ago and George Will more recently. Pascal said, ‘All the good maxims already exist in the world, we just fail to apply them,’ and Will, ‘Dusting off old ideas, not generating new ones, is my aim.’ That veteran columnist James Reston, retiring from the ‘New York Times’, wrote last year, ‘After more than 50 years in journalism’s greatest era I remain an up-to-date, stick-in-the-mud optimist.’ I hope I will be able to say as much when I escape from the computer for the last time. But it won’t be as long a stint as Reston’s or I will surely have run out of words.