I meant what I said and said what I meant …
I know a businessman in a lifelong love affair with Japan. He studies and admires the culture and history. He studies the language, the customs and traditions. His relationship with Japan reminds me of my maternal grandmother’s cosmic “crush” on Mexico. These are the kinds of people who make you want to believe in previous lives.
The businessman shows me, on paper, the Japanese word for “man.” It is, of course, not a word in the way most of us would normally think of the word “word.” It is a symbol, not a letter or grouping of letters. To me, an American and a Westerner, it looks more like design art than a language.
But there it is: man.
Now he shows me the Japanese word (again, to me a hieroglyphic design) for “word” or “words.”
Now the punch line. He shows me the Japanese word meaning “trust, trustworthy, faithful.” Oh my. It takes my breath away. The Japanese word for “trustworthy” is the symbol for “man” placed just to the left of the symbol for “word.”
Get it? For the Japanese, trustworthiness is what happens when a man stands next to his word.
It reminds me of one of my favorite Jesus teachings. Favorite because of its shocking simplicity:
Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.” But I say to you, do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your “Yes” be yes and your “No” be no; anything more than this comes from the evil one. — Matthew 5: 33-37
I laugh and shake my head as I think about all the hyperbole, protestations and rhetoric that punctuates modern human discourse: “Really? … I swear! … That’s the God’s truth! … I mean that sincerely. … You’ve got to believe me! … I’m not kidding! … etc.
Then there’s the great “I’m not lying about this” protestation. Which means, I guess, the person saying it might well be a liar in one or more other contexts. Just not this one. Nice of him to alert us.
But standing by your word is ever-so-much more rigorous a discipline than mere truth-telling. That is, not lying. Standing by your word means speaking with integrity and purpose. There’s an old saying: “He is a man of many words.” And it’s not really a compliment. For me, an extreme extrovert and a man who loves language, it’s taken a long, long time to appreciate and understand that not everything requires my commentary. That sometimes silence has the most integrity.
I know people whose “yes” is yes, whose “no” is no.
It’s always that simple with them. They don’t toss words around. They say what they mean.
They mean what they say. I never walk away from these people thinking “I wonder what he/she meant by that.” I always know. And when I rejoin these folks, they are always the same man or woman as they were before. Never someone else. No matter the time, place, company or conversation. There is a refreshing constancy about them. A continuity of selfhood that you can count on.
I am compelled by people such as this. Not to mention noticeably relaxed around them.
“I think you’re being a little outspoken,” my grandfather once said to me. Fascinating. He didn’t mean he agreed or disagreed. He was warning me the way you’d warn someone writing a check before he’d checked his bank account to make sure he had sufficient funds. My grandfather was cautioning me to consider whether I was prepared to stand next to the words pouring out of my mouth.
I always smile when I remember Romeo’s description of his cousin, Mercutio, to Juliet’s nurse: “He is a gentleman, nurse, who loves to hear himself talk. And he will say more in a moment than he will stand to in a month.”
It’s more than just a little embarrassing to remember the moments in my life when I’ve been Mercutio. But the embarrassment inspires me to hone the value of being a man who stands next to his word.
It’s a commitment I must renew each day.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rules for posting comments
Comments posted below are from readers. In no way do they represent the view of Oahu Publishing Inc. or this newspaper. This is a public forum.
Comments may be monitored for inappropriate content but the newspaper is under no obligation to do so. Comment posters are solely responsible under the Communications Decency Act for comments posted on this Web site. Oahu Publishing Inc. is not liable for messages from third parties.
IP and email addresses of persons who post are not treated as confidential records and will be disclosed in response to valid legal process.
Do not post:
- Potentially libelous statements or damaging innuendo.
- Obscene, explicit, or racist language.
- Copyrighted materials of any sort without the express permission of the copyright holder.
- Personal attacks, insults or threats.
- The use of another person's real name to disguise your identity.
- Comments unrelated to the story.
If you believe that a commenter has not followed these guidelines, please click the FLAG icon below the comment.