“Keep not the mead cup but drink thy measure; speak needful words or none,” reads the medieval Icelandic text the Hávamál or The Words of Odin the High One.
Firstly, what does it mean, “drink thy measure”? The text suggests that we should not hog the mead — a type of honeyed wine — or, by extension, anything else that we have not earned the right to own. The mead is communal. It is shared by the community, whether that is a tribe or a band of warriors that constitutes a kind of tribe within a tribe or a community within a community. Each has his share, which is equivalent to the share of every other member.
The mead is not a symbol of equality in the modern sense. It is a token of unity, and an acknowledgment that each member of the unit, or group — like the unit itself — is dependent on each individual and his qualities, strengths, and contributions. The group is only as strong as its weakest member.
Although in sharing the mead the member of the tribe the individual makes a personal sacrifice to it, he also ultimately acts in his own interest, since he relies on the other members of the tribe for his survival, wellbeing, happiness, and — ultimately — meaning.
“speak needful words or none.” This advice should be taken on board by every man and women seeking to improve and to elevate themselves.
As we know, the internet and media are filled with useless comments, articles, and attack pieces by paid and unpaid commenters, pundits, and so on. Those with little knowledge love words that tear others down. But, as Finnish composer Jean Sibelius is supposed to have remarked, “pay no attention to what the critics say; there has never been set up a statue in honor of a critic.”
Like the composer, we have to develop our skills and understanding — not a mere technical knowledge, but an understanding of the poetry of life and spirit. Then we will have something worth saying.
Of course, sometimes we have to say “needful words” to friends and comrades. We should be truthful, and say what is difficult when it is necessary, but we should also give our advice privately, and in a way that will help the other person make better decisions. Among friends and comrades, words — like mead — should be measured, and shared with respect and with honor for the higher man or woman that our friend, comrade, or partner normally is.