Dag Hammarskjold, Tough Mentor in “Markings”

Only tell others what is of importance to them.  Only ask them what you need to know.  In both cases, that is, limit the conversation to what the speaker really possesses — Argue only in order to reach a conclusion. Think aloud only with those to whom this means something.  Don’t let small talk fill up the time and the silence except  as a medium for bearing unexpressed messages between two people who are attuned to each other.  A dietary for those who have learned by experience the truth of the saying, “For every idle word . . . ” But hardly popular in social life.

– – – Dag Hammarskjold, Markings, p.44

“But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

– – – Matthew 12: 36-37

I do not recall when I first read Dag Hammarskjold’s Markings, but his words have been with me for years.  I may have been a teenager or certainly a college sophomore.  My copy of Markings has nearly more bookmarks than pages which means his every thought struck me as profound.  Hammarskjold has had an honored place in my bed stand.  He was profoundly spiritual, poetic and a great man of state.

Dietary? Yes and a lean one at that.  And Matthew’s words, also, are austere and tough as well.  Obviously neither man had much truck with gossip and idle drivel.  But does it mean we are not to enjoy a little small talk, hanging out with friends?  No, enjoy it seems, if friends can attune to each other.  That’s the meaning of hearing unexpressed messages.  What expectations for friendship!  On some rare occasions I may have been attuned in this manner.  Still, how can a man be sure he has truly understood an “unexpressed message?”  Anyway, who has time for judicious language, let alone thought? There’s danger here.  Best to chat about the Chiefs or the Royals, eh?

By our words we are both justified and condemned.  Think what this means these days when stupid use of words flows daily in torrents of misuse, abuse, intent and non-intent.  No, serious, careful, judicious speech is colorless and boring.  So what is “telling it like it is?’  Who can presume to know truth?

David Milliken


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