Psalm 45

“My tongue is the pen of an expert scribe.” (45:2)

To be a mesmerizing public speaker may be an art, but Dale Carnegie taught that anyone can learn to be an effective speaker. A scribe does not become expert without practice, and neither does a speaker. By listening to great speakers one can learn to use language well and by watching great comedians one can learn to use silence, pauses, to good effect. But the real secret is to speak from your own experience; in other words, to share your own story. Those who speak with sincere conviction, focus on the important points, and summarize the story by relating the lesson they want the listener to learn will be compelling speakers.

Psalm 40

“I did not withhold my words.” (40:10)

There are several ways that the Psalmist’s sentence could end. The conclusion could be regret, futility, or success. I did not withhold my words and I regret having said things that I cannot unsay; or I did not withhold my words but I am glad that I spoke truth to power, even though nothing has changed; or I did not withhold my words and the person or organization I was addressing has changed because of what I said. The first harms relationships and feels bad, so it was better left unsaid. The second feels good but accomplishes nothing, but might have a positive influence on witnesses. The third effected positive change. Before you open your mouth, consider in which category your words are likely to fall.

Psalm 39

“No one endures longer than but a breath.” (39:6)

Compared to the tens of thousands of years of modern human history, the life of any individual is no more than a moment. In the scheme of human history, our individual troubles are transitory and trivial. This doesn’t mean that our suffering isn’t real, but it does mean that we should contextualize it with the question, ‘how much is my pain today going to matter in 100 or 1000 years?’ When you get frustrated and feel compelled to strike out, first take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Do this five times, ten times, or twenty times, until the urge to strike has passed. You now have the proper mindset to decide whether and how you should take action.

Psalm 15

“… speaks truth in his heart.” (15:2)

To lie convincingly, most people, unless they suffer from a personality disorder, need to believe the lie. If you fully acknowledge the truth in your heart and mind, it is very difficult to lie. Your body will most likely give you away. Your eyes will shift, your tongue will stutter, or your voice will drop. Your body physically resists telling what it knows to be a lie. It is possible to override your body’s impulse and teach it to lie more effectively, but it is so much easier to teach your yetzer hara (selfish inclination) to tell the truth, inside and out.

Psalm 12

“With lips such as ours, who can be our master?” (12:5)

Politicians are great talkers. They have mastered the art of articulating their positions on issues, mustering arguments in favor, and countering arguments opposed to them. Sometimes they undermine opposing arguments by attacking the character or the motivation of their opponent. We ought to follow the example of Hillel, who gave such respect to his opponents’ positions that he would teach them even before he taught his own position on the issue. He demonstrated the ability to listen deeply to others in order to truly understand them, a trait worth emulating.