Connecting Our Words and Actions

Connecting Our Words and Actions

May 19, 2017

Words. We are surrounded by them. We swim in a virtual sea of words each day. We create them, use them, misuse them, and discard them. Words link us in a community of communication, connection, and collaboration. They convey meaning, feeling, thinking, and dreaming; our words may defend us or offend others. In some ways, along with our actions, our words serve to define us. While we may be referred to officially as Homo Sapiens (wise man: some may take issue with accuracy of that title!), there is irrefutable evidence to suggest that the title of Homo Loquens (speaking man) is more accurate.

The properties and practicalities of human language make a fascinating target for research. A debate rages among academics about words: how many do we speak each day? Do women speak more than men, or vice versa? When we speak, do we say what we mean? Or do we sometimes use words to disguise what we really mean? Do our words convey one meaning and our actions another?

According to some research, the average person speaks around 15,000 words per day. If we take this statistic as a guide, in the course of one academic year, our more talkative children may speak as many as 3,000,000 words during their time at school – an impressive, even daunting total!

Parents, of course, hope that with the passage of time, their children will learn to speak intelligently, thoughtfully, purposefully, and increasingly – responsibly. Taking full responsibility for what we say marks a transition point from childhood to adulthood. We endeavor to educate our children to choose their words carefully, measure their meaning, and speak with politeness and integrity. The capacity to wield language in a mature and purposeful way is a key outcome of any complete education.

In bidding farewell to the Class of 2017 at their graduation this week, my message concerns the need to maintain a strong and honorable connection between what we say and what we do. In an era of post-truth and alternative facts, there are some for whom the connection between speech and reality can be interpreted or distorted according to personal whim, convenience, or prejudice. Once this link is broken, our words serve no purpose. I see a pressing need for people of integrity, who care deeply about truthfulness, to honor a very old and simple Confucian principle: practice what you profess; keep your word.

To our graduates, I would offer the following exhortation: choose your words and actions with care and ensure that they are bound together with honor and courage; they embody you.

Dr. Malcolm Pritchard
Head of School

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