One’s Words Should be Substantial

言之有物 (yan zhi you wu). One’s words should be substantial.

This applies to both writing and speech. This was something the professor for the History of Chinese Philosophy taught us on our first lesson.

I must admit that I am indeed very guilty of just blabbering lots of nonsense, especially when I talk. But I think there is great wisdom in the above phrase.

In my first semester, one professor mentioned that in the digital age, we take our words for granted. Very little thought goes into the sentences that we construct thanks to the invention of the backspace key. We write something, we don’t like it, we delete the character(s) or word(s), and we start again: perhaps until we are satisfied.

Without much thought spent on the idea that we wish to convey in the sentence, the words have been expressed. This is very much different from the way people used to write in the past. They thought carefully and deeply about the subject and had great clarity of mind such that a page (and even more) could be written or typed out with no error whatsoever.

Even in speech, we are often in a hurry to say something. Before seriously pondering on what it really means, the implications, validity of the statement, etc., words flood out of our mouths like the Merlion. And more often than not, we end up with regrets over what had been said.

There is a proverb that I heard in the past that goes along the lines of: The man of wisdom is one who speaks few words. In the sense that the wise man knows when and what exactly to say, while the fool is one who blabbers away.

言之有物. What an important lesson to learn!

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