What Can You Say in 6 Words?

Distillation requires us to reduce something to its essence.  Within art and literature, it often means that less is more.

Hemingway was especially gifted in this regard and, as legend has it, was once challenged to write a story using only six words. His response?

  “For sale; baby shoes. Never worn.”

This six-word format has been popularized by the organization Six Word Memoirs.

It has also been an effective instrument in getting people to open up on issues like race as evidenced by The Race Card Project.  This initiative was started by Michele Norris of NPR and is now affiliated with The Bridge at Aspen Institute. 

Several hundred thousand people have shared their six-word reflections on race. Just spending a few minutes on the site will show you the power of the format.

In reflecting recently on why I do this work in general and more specifically my interest in a better conversation around the American Dream, I distilled it down to this:

“I die. Daughters live. Now what?”

Part of the discipline of this exercise is to allow these few words to stand on their own – and, in doing so, give us pause so they may soak in.

So if you have a few minutes today, try distilling your story down to six words.  As is the case in so many things, much of the value lies in the process not the end product. Still, I think you’ll be surprised by how a few words can say so much.

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