How to Use Your Words

The beauty of language and literature, of having a core of classical stories to draw from and similes and metaphors with which to paint pictures, is that we can appeal to the inner man and his ultimate questions. "The glory of figurative language is to give us pictures where explanations fail," writes Adam Andrews of Center for Lit. how-to-use-your-words

We read Teddy Roosevelt's speech, The Man with the Muck Rake, last week. It's one of those things you want everyone to read; or maybe that's just me. I am sometimes prone to get excited/agitated about something that other people have been aware of for awhile (I am not fast), and I might annoyingly suggest Everyone needs to read this!, when actually, several people already have.

The speech is from 1906. It's not new.

Among the things that strike me about the speech is that it was given to the House of Representatives and Roosevelt assumed that everyone in his audience was familiar with Pilgrim's Progress, which is where the analogy of the Muck Rake Man came from. He was probably right. Everyone he addressed probably was familiar with the story, because in 1906 a well-educated person most likely had read Bunyon's allegory. Probably in school. They had a common language, a common conversation to draw from, which would have included the Bible and many classics.

The next thing that strikes me is the speech's applicability to the present. Does history repeat itself, or do some things never change? Either cliche may work here.

The liar is no whit better than the thief, and if his mendacity takes the form of slander he may be worse than most thieves. It puts a premium upon knavery untruthfully to attack an honest man, or even with hysterical exaggeration to assail a bad man with untruth.

An epidemic of indiscriminate assault upon character does no good, but very great harm. The soul of every scoundrel is gladdened whenever an honest man is assailed, or even when a scoundrel is untruthfully assailed.

I think news used to be news, hard-fought, delivered by horseback or ship or telegram and highly valued. Then came "yellow journalism", quick news, and words intended to make money. Speed and immediacy have made the world smaller and we are all small-town gossips spreading shock and scandal and hearsay.

The fool who has not sense to discriminate between what is good and what is bad is well nigh as dangerous as the man who does discriminate and yet chooses the bad. There is nothing more distressing to every good patriot, to every good American, than the hard, scoffing spirit which treats the allegation of dishonesty in a public man as a cause for laughter. Such laughter is worse than the crackling of thorns under a pot, for it denotes not merely the vacant mind, but the heart in which high emotions have been choked before they could grow to fruition.

It's one thing to write satire; it's another to give it a suggestive headline and pass it off as fact.

This is my main frustration these days and I'm feeling a little ranty, but the kids I hang around are giving me hope. They are asking good questions and choosing not to believe everything they're told, like "typical teenagers".

This is annoying. It creates adversity. It forces us to think deeper and admit the possibility of our faults, and it's doing a good work in all of us.

A good story was never written or life lived or body strengthened without adversity.


We watched a recorded webinar the other night on the internet and our souls, and we paused it several times to question the speaker (whom I wanted to agree with wholeheartedly) on facts that were vague or missing. While part of me wanted my kids to just swallow her spiel, hook, line and sinker, the better part of me was glad to hear their questions and skepticism. Disagreement means engagement, if nothing else.

We can give them the stock answers and fill in all the blanks for them but in the end what we want are kids who know how to make decisions for themselves, right? We want kids who are equipped and who know how to think for themselves. Even if it drives us crazy and they won't just do what I say.

For all the faults young people have been labeled with, we could learn something from their questions.

The wise use of language is worth fighting for. It's worth our efforts to discern truth from fiction, to use our words for good, to charitably question intentions of those who tell us what we want to hear. 

There is any amount of good in the world, and there never was a time when loftier and more disinterested work for the betterment of mankind was being done than now. The forces that tend for evil are great and terrible, but the forces of truth and love and courage and honesty and generosity and sympathy are also stronger than ever before. It is a foolish and timid, no less than a wicked thing, to blink the fact that the forces of evil are strong, but it is even worse to fail to take into account the strength of the forces that tell for good.

This is not a time for the people of God to be hopeless or to let the loudest voices be clanging cymbals.