How to buy what you can't buy

26 December 2016
26 Dec 2016
West Lafayette, IN
3 mins

Everybody wants us to speak up.

But when we do, we get put down.

Speaking is hard. It takes guts.

But speaking seems like it’s second nature to that comedian, or that news anchor, or that presenter, or Stephen Colbert. Damn you, Stephen Colbert.

Speech is a product offered by our society by allowing freedom in thought and liberty in expression, and we pay for it in the risk we incur by taking stances and standing for our thoughts. We pay for it in the words we write and the with people to whom we speak with some invisible sense of anonymous authority. We pay for it in the responsibility we take to educate the people around us about everything from that Pokémon Go technique to the intricacies of quantum superfluidity. Most recently, we pay for it with eternal records etched into the everlasting, vivid stream of voices we call the Web. World-wide and permanent.

Speech is the primary currency of life. When we argue for that margin of an extra dollar, when we give that pep talk for a class or a team, when we clench our sign on our right hand and an American flag on the left in the streets, when we reply to a Tweet or mark a ballot or click a link, we speak. Sometimes silently, sometimes loudly, sometimes with our voice, sometimes with our ink, we all speak.

But we spend our words as Kanye does his pennies through a downtown thrift shop, when in fact the most celebrated speakers in the world spend their syllables only as a single mother of two working two shifts a day spends her night’s earnings.

The currency that is our words is simply indifferent to fame, wealth, race, or religion. But as a dollar loses its value the more we mint, words lose their power the more they are spoken.

Speaking is hard, because on top of our other problems, we need to strike the fine edge between speaking so much as to erase the value of our words and speaking so little as to let our voice die in the crowd. It’s hard because, unbeknownst to us, we participate in this economy of words, and it’s hard to spend our words well, perhaps even more than it is to spend our money well.

The currency of words won’t necessarily get you a new car or a better home or a lower rent, but I think it gets you something less ephemeral and more dependable. The currency of words earns you trust and respect and friendship and love. And those are four things no money can buy.

And we should spend as such, with as much austerity and as much rapture as each thought deserves.

You have a beautiful voice. Please speak out and speak up. The best investments will carry you further than you imagined.

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