Is All Our Talking Saying Anything?

My husband’s favorite maxim–and one that seems more and more applicable to a variety of cultural situations today–is a quote by former basketball coach John Wooden: “Never confuse activity with accomplishment.”

The world we live in today is full of activity, especially verbal activity. There is constant chatter and commentary everywhere, from the echo chamber of the blogosphere and social media to the 24/7/365 news cycle’s repetition and dissection of any event or phenomenon that hints at a potential “story”. I think if most of us are honest with ourselves, it seems exhausting and unrealistic for us to keep up with the constant stream of information. Moreover, are we as individual contributors part of the problem? Is all our talking saying anything that is worth our time?

For the last few weeks Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, has been on the top 10 Washington Nonfiction Bestsellers list. I have not read the book yet, but the title certainly capture my interest. I have long thought that the truly productive individuals accomplishing significant and meaningful work were those who are purposeful and measured in both the conversations that they engage in and the commentary they contribute.

There have been truly prolific writers throughout history whose level of activity amounts to bountiful social and cultural accomplishments that most of us will never attain. For the rest of us, appearing “active” may often be a facade. I find that I follow very few blogs on a regular basis, and even fewer Twitter feeds, for substantive dialogue. I notice a common thread in the activity level of writers and thinkers that have accomplished deeply meaningful and lasting work. These individuals are consistent and purposeful with their communication.

I have often struggled personally with the external societal pressure I feel to “write regularly” or “maintain a vibrant social media presence” in order to promote myself. But in the end I always come back to the peace I feel in being dedicated to consistent and meaningful work. I hear my husband’s maxim in my head, and I constantly have to remind myself that maintaining an appearance of activity is not the same as accomplishing meaningful writing and work.

We need more quiet and less activity so that we can start to extract the language that doesn’t serve a purpose and start contributing in a sustainable way to conversations that are worthy of our valuable time.