Conversational Simplicity

Fred Smith draws on an old western movie to think through conversational simplicity.

By Fred Smith

One night as I was going to bed Mary Alice had some old black and white western move on. In it a taciturn thirtyish farmer marries a woman who is dying. She has a small baby and the farmer promises to raise the boy. As she was dying he was telling her that he wanted to build her a three-room house with a porch where they could sit and rock under the hackberry tree. When she died he took the baby and raised him with a single dedication.

I was taken by the simplicity of the man, his singleness of purpose, his absolute commitment. There were no psychological arguments in his life --- he took the boy to raise, he accepted her death, buried her. He took the three-room house as a worthy ambition with sitting on the porch as a reward for a hard day of farming. These people required very little conversation because their commitment was total, simple, direct and all-consuming.

Commitment is a big part of simplifying life. Paul said, "This one thing I do." Modern man says, "These many things I will try." And modern man never seems to settle on any one as being completely worthy of a life.

The simple farmer felt that living out a simple life, fulfilling his responsibilities and not asking too much reward was all that life offered him. There is great dignity in accepting life and living it simply, within commitment. A great deal of our media talks to us about what we are missing, not what we are getting. I know of few people who could contentedly sit in a cane rocker on a porch with three rooms and watch the sun go down feeling truly contented without any sense of missing out on something. The elegance in the simplicity of the farmer's acceptance of life and his responsibilities doesn't need a lot of dressing up. True essence is elegant by its nature and doesn't need additional external trappings.

It is hard to verbalize the elegance of the man when he simply said, "I'll build you a three-room house with a porch where we can sit and rock under the hackberry tree." His comment to the crying baby was "I'll raise you good if it takes every breath in my body."

The simplicity of his conversation was part of the man. He would say "howdy" without embellishment. In the film his conversation was never more than two or three words…..made it easier on the script writer! One of his longest sentences was to the boy when he a growing young man:" When you grow up I'll buy you a gun and we'll shoot chicken hawks together." When the man died, one of the other farmers said, "We never knew how much love was in him" He displayed the elegance of feeling.

The farmer said things simply, not feeling that he had to justify or rationalize or make himself look good by his conversation. Much of urban conversation is impressing, justifying, embellishing and talking for effect.

 The truth simply spoken is a brilliant jewel in an elegant Tiffany mounting…understated yet always appropriate.