When I am appointed Public Speech Czar, I will be announcing a list of outlawed phrases and buzzwords that will be punishable by fine for a first offense, and by permanent exile for repeat usage.
In the business world, these will include “take it to the next level,” “think outside the box,” and “low-hanging fruit.” In the church world, they will number “wrecked,” “undone,” and “moral failure.” In the media world, the ban will cover the likes of “outliers,” “hopefuls,” and the perky newcomer, “national conversation.”
The reason these all bug me is that so often they seem to be a bit of a smokescreen. By using them, we can be trying to shift the real focus: we make something seem either more important than it really is or less important, depending on the situation.
For example, being “wrecked” by an inspiring sermon puts the emphasis on how spiritual I must be to have been touched so deeply, rather than the message itself, while admitting to a “moral failure” quietly ignores that I actually chose to do something wrong.
But the one that really sets my teeth on edge right now is the “national conversation” we are apparently having on issues like gender and race, according to commentators and journalists. Really? I must have missed that somewhere.
A conversation, after all, involves both parties speaking and listening in turn. Most of what I have observed has been talking at or about people who hold a differing viewpoint, not talking with.
Instead of dialogues we have concurrent monologues. This is declaring, not discussing.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that what has been generated in the recent “national conversations” has been much more heat than light. After all, you get more of the former than the latter when the coil through which the current is passed is too tightly wound. And people are more likely to end up getting burned than illuminated.