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“All you have to do is write one true sentence,” Ernest Hemingway said in his 1964 memoir, “A Moveable Feast.” “Write the truest sentence that you know.”

It is true that we are often unaware of the true motivation behind our utterances, our sentences, our dialogues, our words.

What drives us to speak, to write, to utter our words? We often think of the context but rarely pay attention to the subtext and hidden motivation behind our words.

The context is often clear: We congratulate a couple and wish them a bright future together (context: marriage); or offer our condolences when their loved one passes away (context: mourning); finally, we encourage others to do their best to win (context: sports, competitions).

But what about the subtext?

What truly drives our words when we communicate with other people?

Is it the need to be seen? The desire to be heard? To be valued and accepted as a person worthy of love, acceptance, and admiration?

Or do we use the words in an exploratory manner in service of our irresistible urge to arrive at some ultimate truth?

When we talk to another person, do we engage in a dialogue for two or a monologue with an audience of one? At times when I talk to another person, I feel that my motivation is to sound coherent, to appear coherent, and thus to feel worthy of a meaningful conversation.

Other times, when we engage in conversations, we sometimes pepper our words with references to some important people we know, certain impressive places we visited, or worthwhile accolades we or our close ones have attained, engaging in what is known as ‘name dropping’; the subtext of such conversations often being, “Please accept and respect me, I’m worthy, I’m capable of achieving impressive and admirable things and of affiliating with important people.”

Other times, we judge others for their behaviors, habits, temptations, or sins, not because we are of impeccable character ourselves but rather because the subtext there is: “For me to judge others, I must be morally on higher ground.”

Here’s the truest sentence I know:

The older I get, the more aware I become that the less I know, in true Socratean wisdom.

Humility, it seems, is a destination, not a starting point.

We tend to think that humility leads to knowledge; I believe that knowledge leads to humility. The more we know, the more we realise that we are ignorant.

Further Reflections on Humility

Humility as a destination means that through our experiences and the accumulation of knowledge, we come to understand our limitations and ignorance. This understanding fosters a deeper sense of humility. It is not where we begin our journey, but where we arrive as a result of our continual learning and growth.

Practical Takeaways

  1. Mindfulness Exercises: Practice mindfulness to become more aware of the subtext in your conversations. Pay attention to your motivations and the hidden messages behind your words.
  2. Reflective Practices: Take time to reflect on your dialogues. Ask yourself what drives your words and how you can engage in more genuine and meaningful conversations.
  3. Cultivate Humility: Embrace humility by recognising the limits of your knowledge. Seek to learn from others and understand their perspectives, which can enrich your own understanding.

What do you think, dear reader?

Do you ever think of the subtext in our conversations? Do you ever examine your own motivations?

Feel free to share your thoughts below.


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