Speaking in Foreign Tongues

Yesterday afternoon I felt like I was in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language. 

Where I’d studied the language out of a textbook at some point along the way, but I’d never used it enough in conversation to really understand and speak it myself. 

So I just sat there and tried to nod appropriately and smile or look concerned when I was supposed to, but on the inside, I didn’t have a clue. 

I was talking to a financial advisor.  A stockbroker. 

Yes, I studied economics and the Uniform Commercial Code and corporate structure where we learned all about the stock market in law school. 

I passed all the tests. 

But I never learned to speak the language.

I learned to speak other languages, though. 

For instance, when I coached speech and debate, a conversation at a speech tournament might go something like this:


“So what events do you do?” 

“HI, DI and prose” 

“What about you? 

“Extemp and C-X.” 

“Who’d you hit last round?” 

“That team that we hit in double-octos last weekend.  Did you break in anything?” 

“Yeah, DI, but I got DQed in HI for going over.”

Sound like Greek?  Of course it does, if you’ve never lived in that world. 

And then I learned legalese.  

A world where people actually begin letters with phrases like “pursuant to our conversation,” and “attached please find blah, blah, blah.”  A world where you learn to stick words like “heretofore” and “notwithstanding” in sentences merely to confuse the average person. 

So often language separates.  

Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1563


When I think it was originally intended to bring us together.  To help us know each other beyond the surface.  To connect us on a deeper level.  

So we’d feel less alone. 

We need something deeper than words, though, to connect us.  

Something that tells me I can trust what that stockbroker’s saying, even when I don’t understand the words. 

Something like I felt last night watching the faces of men and women singing their hearts out.  Men and women whose lives are hard.  Who speak a different language than I speak.  One of poverty.  Disadvantage.  Despair. 

But the music we were making together transcended the words. 

And for a moment we were all speaking the same language. 

The guy I talked to today speaks that language, too. 

That’s why I gave him my money.





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