“Words give us power.”–Julia Cameron, author of “The Right to Write”
Unless we are born with a disability or become ill or are recipient of an injury after birth,we all have the ability to communicate, some better than others. But even if we are not limited by a physical or mental condition, there are constraints on our expression.
For example, according to writing expert Julia Cameron, we are all born with a gift of language, but once we enter school we are limited by what we write and how we write it by our teachers. Students are confronted by academic conventions which they must obey. As a long-time instructor of writing at universities, I know too well how important these principles are. Violate them and you risk receiving a slap from the heavy hand of academic authorities.
The expectations of those who govern us also restrain communication. In his book “The Death of Common Sense”, Philip K. Howard bemoans the tendency of those who write government regulations to attempt to cover every contingency regardless of the effect imposed on those having to implement them. In their effort to ensure certain outcomes, bureaucrats dispense with logic, a key feature of the effective transmission of ideas, at least in western societies like America
To illustrate this trend, Howard tells a story regarding Mother Teresa’s experience with the laws of New York City. The sainted lady wished to build a homeless shelter and was willing to put up half a million dollars to do so if the city would donate the building.
New York was very willing and the project seemed to be doable until city building officials presented Mother Teresa with a requirement to include a $100,000 elevator on the premises, purportedly for safety reasons. This regulation violated the beliefs of the Mother’s organization, which did not allow for the use of modern conveniences. The city wouldn’t budge on its rules even though the elevator would not be used. As a result, Mother Teresa politely declined to go further with the shelter and her desired good work turned to nothing because of the wording of a government fiat. Even though the verbiage flowed from the legal beagles, its effect prevented a good work: a shelter which would have housed 70 men who otherwise didn’t have a home.
Howard writes, “We seem to have achieved the worst of all possible worlds: a system of regulation that goes too far while it also does too little.This paradox is explained by the absence of the one indispensable ingredient of any successful human endeavor: use of judgment.”
Solomon, an ancient king, advised his readers in the biblical book of Proverbs to get good judgment. He particularly singled the effect of good judgment from leaders. Solomon wrote that those leaders who have good judgment create stability but those who don’t leave a wasteland. America is becoming a huge brownfield because of a lack of discernment among its leaders in what they say and how they say it.
Rhetoric is out of control in the political arena. The president, for example, is known for his edgy comments and verbal attacks on enemies. He is known for his insults of political opponents during the last election and other inappropriate statements.
His adversaries, however, are also extreme in their statements and suffer not only from sins of commission, but also those of omission. Despite his election last November, political leaders and celebrities on the left refuse to see Donald Trump as legitimate and as a result produce personal insults not only toward him and his adult family members, but also his 10-year old son.
Further, some politicians are keeping their mouths shut over the violence perpetrated by left-wing extremists when they should be coming out against it. Long-time political reporter Brett Hume decries what he calls the intolerance of the left, especially in the media, the entertainment industry and on college campuses. After condemning an obscenity-filled commentary against Trump by the politically left comedian Stephen Colbert on CBS as “unrepeatably vulgar”, Hume said that “restraints are being broken through as we go and it does make you wonder if we are on a slippery slope to real violence.”
In other words, the breakdown of honorable speech in our culture is leading us to a destructive hell. Use of the spoken and written word should be artistic, enriching people’s lives. Instead, political charlatans are destroying our society through their hateful discourse.
By lowering the standards of civilized speech in our culture, these people are influencing even well meaning folks at the community level. A recent TV series focusing on youth football in Texas and Pennsylvania shows coaches verbally abusing the kids in their charge. While the program “Friday Night Tykes” documents the difficult task these men have in trying to lead a generation of children away from drugs and gangs and into character building sports, it also led to the suspension of coaches due to their coarse language.
As Hume says, I believe these coaches have been influenced by their leaders, people who have let go of all restraint in their communication. After watching the hard work put in by these men despite the obstacles they face, I felt they were at heart good people. They deserve better role models as they seek to have a positive effect on the blighted towns in which they serve.
Julia Cameron discusses how our acquisition of words as children give us ownership. We treat them as gold and cherish them.
It seems our leaders have lost this sense of value when it comes to what comes out of their mouths or crosses their fingertips onto a computer. Would that they take ownership again of their words and benefit us all.