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Language deserves our stewardship in a ‘culture of lies’

Bemoaning the coarsening of our culture and the rudeness of much of our discourse is almost a pastime these days.

We have just completed another election season in which we have been beaten over the head with  unattractive misuses of our language: lies, twisted terms, exaggerations and innuendo, delivered shrilly or in dire, threatening tones.  The primary goal seems to be to make voters angry.

According to many polls, we don’t like negative campaigning and ads, but they regularly seem to be worse than the last time.  Why?  Negative tactics work, especially when repeated endlessly.

However, they don’t solve problems, and we have many complex problems in this country that must be faced but are not easily solved.

They require effective and civilized communication and a willingness to be educated.

Too often, what tries to pass as communication amounts to reacting to emotionally loaded words and phrases with irate set pieces that are so predictable that a hearer could write them out before they have been delivered.

We have arrived at this unpleasant juncture over an extended period, and going beyond it will also take time.

Bemoaning can be satisfying, but only as a midpoint where we can draw a deep breath and decide how we go past this verbal train wreck we’ve created.

Our language deserves our stewardship, according to Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, author of Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies.

Our language is a life-sustaining resource, she says.  “Like any other life-sustaining resource, language can be depleted, polluted, contaminated, eroded, and filled with artificial stimulants.  Like any other resource, it needs the protection of those who recognize its value and commit themselves to good stewardship.”

She has 12 strategies for stewardship of language. 

Some are obvious.  Some are not so obvious, and a number of them are practices that we often tell ourselves we should make more time to do.  Several call us to be responsible citizens:

1) Love words, cherishing language for “its diversity, precision, power to enhance understanding, power to name, power to heal.”

2) Tell the truth, realizing that truth is often elusive, relational and many-sided.

3)  Don’t tolerate lies. 

4)  Read well, taking in, eating, chewing on, being fed and nourished by the text.

5)  Stay in conversation, because “conversation, like good reading, nourishes.”

6)  Share both personal and literary stories about how actions affect lives.

7)  Love the long sentence.  It can take us on an interesting, unhurried journey.

8)  Practice poetry, reading some, memorizing some and writing some.

9)  Attend to translation, which includes not only going from one language to another, but also going from one realm of knowledge to another.  Making a field of knowledge accessible does not have to mean dumbing it down.

10)  Play.  “To play with words is to love them, delight in them, honor their possibilities and take them seriously.”

11) Pray and practice the presence of God.

12) Cherish silence.

By practicing the stewardship of language we might also find ourselves reaping the fruits of the spirit.

Nancy Minard - Editorial Team

Copyright © November 2010 - The Fig Tree