Monday, April 10, 2006

Barber Shop Wisdom

Wendell Berry wrote of a barber who refused to give a discount to a bald client, explaining that his artistry consisted, not in the cutting but in knowing when to stop.

Nowhere is this artistic reticence needed more than in public speaking. Excessive explanation clutters language like knick knacks in an auction mart. Why do those presiding at a communion service have to crucify the Easter drama with endless words?

Effective speakers have learned the artistry of pruning phrases and snipping extraneous words like Berry’s barber.

The Hebrew Scriptures are famous for their reticence and often communication is more powerful because of what is left unsaid. The gaps between ideas engage readers, often suggesting a nod and a wink. How understated is the Exodus story when the narrator says: “And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of his sword.” (Ex. 13.17)

Wouldn’t it be wonderful for hearers if sermons were artistically trimmed and speeches were stylistically thinned? It might give more time for powerful pauses and suggestive silence. The promise of a few more hair-raising stories effectively told might be pure joy, especially if you’re bald.

Geoff Pound

Image: Cartoon on baldness.