11/24/2010 04:45 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Saying It Without Words

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When the Vatican chooses a new pope, the traditional white smoke swirls out of the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, the bells of St. Peter begin to ring, cheers erupt from the tens of thousands of people in the square below who gather to witness the historic announcement of the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church. It is a moving sight, a beautiful, historical moment. There is something poetic, refreshing, and virtually primal about the use of the symbolic smoke signals and bells in place of a more mundane verbal announcement. It's almost as if a verbal or written announcement would have been inadequate, disappointing, smaller than the grand event it attempted to communicate. The smoke and bells got it just right.

This all begs the question -- how many other life events might be more effectively, charmingly, creatively, and appropriately communicated if done so without words? Several come to mind immediately.

Rather than a man hemming and hawing in response his date's question about whether he keeps his place tidy, she could immediately see for herself by the symbolic filthy sock flapping in the breeze atop the flag pole on his house. The doorbell of a National Rifle Association member could be a twenty-one gun salute; what more need be said?

There's no need for high school cafeteria workers to write out a new lunch menu ever day. They can simply set a stomach pump atop the counter. That simple gesture conveys to the students, "Food's ready; yes, it's the same quality and taste you've come to expect each and every day." A guy who's been divorced several times and is basically clueless around women could have a thick red "X" painted across his face, thereby warning unsuspecting women from even blocks away to stay away.

Airline pilots who drink alcohol before take-off might also show prospective life-loving passengers some consideration by hanging a martini glass-shaped banner from one of the wings.

An earth-shattering, Jamie Lee Curtis horror movie scream of terror could precede any surprise mother-in-law visit. A smoker's household could have on its lawn, instead of a garden gnome, a large sculpture of a black lung perched on a pedestal. And an unemployed son about to pay his parents a visit to ask for a loan, could announce his visit, taking a hint from Batman's Bat-Signal in the sky, only this one would be an enormous glowing leech.

If these new non-verbal signals catch on, they could truly save Americans time, energy, and years of learning about the proper response for a given situation. Bosses could literally give fired employees "the boot." Auto mechanics could play "Taps" to indicate to the car owner the state of his 1978 VW Beetle. And what man receiving a bouquet of dead roses from his girlfriend wouldn't have an exact picture of how she perceives their relationship?

The point is, the world is full of words and we don't need them all. Most of them are just filler. Many are hurtful, even leading to wars. 78% of them are advertising. There are other ways to convey things. Better ways. Let's take a lesson from the Papal "announcement," from monks who take vows of silence for years, from mimes, from meditators, from the great silent movies, from animals, from Mother Nature and from the cosmos.

Thomas Carlyle said, "Under all speech that is good for anything there lies a silence that is better, Silence is deep as Eternity; speech is shallow as Time." Granted, words have their place. This guy Shakespeare did fairly well with them. But every once in a while we might consider putting the words aside, to show rather than tell. Because if you show it the right way, it will tell itself more effectively than words ever could.