Words are a gift not to be squandered

I saw this contest in which you could win a house on the Ohio River in Vevay, Indiana. For $199 and an essay of not more than 200 words, you would be in the running with the rest of the contenders. I thought this was just kooky enough for me to give it a try. At best, I might have a large home with a beautiful view. At worst, it would give me something interesting to talk about.

I had a few concerns about submitting my entry. For one, if I did actually win, would I be able to afford the taxes, insurance and utilities on such a large home? I can imagine how all those items taken together could easily be more than my current monthly expenses in my small apartment. And if I did end up moving to Vevay, then I’d want to visit my friends in Bloomington periodically, so there would be travel expenses.

Although the rules state that the winner is allowed to sell the home, I personally wouldn’t feel right about that. Plus, why would I want to try to win a house if I don’t actually want the prize?

(Maybe that’s not the best question, as I’ve been known to try — and sometimes succeed — at winning things I’m not particularly excited about, just for the sake of being able to say I won something.)

But my main thought was that the entrance fee and the corresponding word limit, making the essay worth $1 per word. I started to think how expensive this really is: Do I have enough confidence in my writing to place $1 value on each word? And if I don’t believe in myself, then how would I be able to convince the judges of the contest that I am the one who deserves the home?

Then I really started to ponder — what if we were to all treat our words so carefully and viewed each of them as an investment, just as with this contest? I imagine we’d think twice about squandering our valuable words on idle chatter, gossip or complaining.

I certainly wouldn’t waste a bunch of money talking about the faults of other people, everyday irritations or other minutiae.

In fact, what would be worthy of such expensive communication? Words of encouragement, used to build up a co-worker who is frustrated; speaking consolation to a family member who is hurting; telling a friend we are happy for them — extending love in various ways to those around us. Wouldn’t that be the best way to spend the expense of my words?

Yet, we cannot refuse to share our words, despite the cost. Words are necessary for living in this world, whether they be written, oral or in some other form. We cannot have relationships with others without them. We may fail and waste our words, learning from our mistakes. But we must not hoard our precious treasure for ourselves alone. Where would we be if everyone operated this way?

This could also cause us to see the consequences of our actions, how what we do can cause a domino effect in the lives of those around us. We can become more mindful of how we can contribute to the happiness of other people. Even small gestures of kindness can have a profound effect for those with whom we interact. This can lead to ripples in the lives of friends of friends and so on.

In a similar vein, as examining our words and our actions, we need to look at the material resources we have been given. What if I were to win the spatial river house? How could I then refuse to show hospitality to visitors? If I were given such a gift, then I would hope it must follow that I would be eager to extend my blessings. Besides, it’s one thing to live alone in a tiny apartment, but being by myself in a large home would just magnify any loneliness.

Remember: To whom much is given, much will be required. But we can’t let the apprehension of responsibility keep us from trying any number of ways to step beyond our comfort zones.

We might lose the entrance fee to a writing contest — or worse yet, succumb to fear and never even try. Therefore, we must run the race so as to win the prize. May each of us view our words, time and resources as gifts to be shared freely with all.

Stephanie Haines is a writer from Greenfield who now lives in Bloomington. She can be contacted through her website, stephaniehaines.com.