This is an article I wrote for an online magazine for young ladies called Verita. I am honoured to be a regular writer for this magazine. If you have a moment, take a look! Verita is a wonderful website with varied, good, and creative writers. Enjoy!
Wit is a lost word, a word that has no bearing on today’s society. However, in the time of the Puritans, wit was regarded as a virtue, and if you had it, you would be respected and revered. In Shakespeare’s play, Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice’s sour and fiery attitude are forgiven because her wit is so clever: “My, but she has a fine wit,” they usually say about her. Also, in Shakespearian times, there were five wits, parallel to the five senses. They were imagination, common sense, fantasy, estimation, and memory. It is rare to find someone nowadays with an abundance of these five wits. Speech begins with thought (or it should) and the realm of thought includes the five wits. What our society and culture needs first and foremost is a Reformation of Speech, or, like William Wilberforce pursued, the Reformation of Manners, which would include speech.
Not only do we speak carelessly and without thought, but we speak too much. Henry David Thoreau said: “The tragedy in human intercourse begins, not when there is a misunderstanding about words, but when silence is not understood.” And I recently read in a book something about the “silence that is communion still.” Most assuredly, there is a time to speak, but also a time to keep silent. Speech should come from a well-informed, or a questioning mind. I would venture to say that the main problem is that we are not pursuing wisdom; we are not wishing to be wise and acting accordingly. We are more concerned with… well, with nothing.
Do we listen?
Do we think?
Do we ask questions?
If the answer is no, our desire is not to learn, but to gain a certain end. You see this apparent in education, in the work force, the political systems, etc. There are levels of achievement. And everyone is studying their hardest to get to the next level, the higher level. Think of the information—the history, literature, science, anything you learn—as a human body thrust across a chasm, serving its only purpose as a bridge, and pretend you stomp over that bridge, and perhaps some of Education’s ribs get broken. Education, work, politics, sports, etc. have become machines, and if we are involved in them, they simply transport us to the next level, and leave no lasting idea or impression on us.
So little occurs within us that we have become, let’s be honest, stupid. We can’t begin to understand Beatrice’s wit, for example, which comes from a well-informed mind, much less speak it fluently. How do we fix this? We must begin by controlling ourselves.
Think about the meaningless exclamations you utter every day. Things like: “Crap!” “Darn!” “Shoot!” “Rats!” “Snap!” “Oh my gosh!” “Oh my goodness!” “Wow!” “Holy cow!” “Cool!” “Like, like, like, umm, like…” the list could go on and on. These things have no importance, they are merely hand-me-down, worn out phrases that we use in place of a genuine expression of how we feel about something. I am not speaking in ignorance when I say that sometimes they come from a feeling of having to speak. From the beginning of August a friend and I have been trying to refrain from exclaiming, and I realize when I’m refraining that I feel lost for words, and I wondered: “Do I even need to say anything? Maybe a smile will say more than anything.” Perhaps not everyone feels this way, though.
First things first, we need to cut out the exclamations. They are meaningless and most of the time, insincere, especially with the youth in America. Then we need to start systematically sorting through our thoughts, and if we have questions, ask them. And if we have no questions, then listen, and really, truly, think ten times before we speak, but perhaps ten quick times or one slow time so we don’t lose the opportunity if it’s right. Next we need to exercise our imagination, our common sense, our fantasy, our estimation, and our memory.
- Imagination – Imagination is the ability to draw up an image of something external that is not present to the senses. Imagination allows us to picture something somebody tells us, without ever actually having seen it.
- Common sense – Good sense and sound judgement in practical matters. Pretty basic, isn’t it? But most people allow anger, fear, and other emotions to get in the way of their common sense; we do it more often than we know.
- Fantasy – The ability to imagine things impossible or improbable. Close to imagination, but a bit different. In Cyrano de Bergerac, there is a passage where Cyrano sinks into a reverie about how he might grow soft in the evening, how he might fall in love, what he might see, how everything might seem. His ability to fantasize enables him to draw up images for the audience.
- Estimation – Being able to value and calculate something, typically a person and their character. This is truly a lost art. We get too caught up in impressions, especially first impressions (and I am very guilty of this), to use our common sense and try to judge fairly and soundly. However, at the same time, we fail to take the little signs of the impressions that may give a clue as to the real character of someone.
- Memory – The faculty used to remember information. Sure we remember things. All the unimportant, juicy facts. What was that about education? It’s only a bridge, that, when crossed, is forgotten? No, education should be stored in the memory, ready for reference, ready for support, ready for ideas and structure of thought. Memory can quickly draw up something learned long ago, and apply it.