Glittering generalities

October 26, 2010

This morning I stumbled upon this from the official pamphlet of the 1939 New York World’s Fair:

“The eyes of the Fair are on the future – not in the sense of peering toward the unknown nor attempting to foretell the events of tomorrow and the shape of things to come, but in the sense of presenting a new and clearer view of today in preparation for tomorrow; a view of the forces and ideas that prevail as well as the machines. To its visitors the Fair will say: “Here are the materials, ideas, and forces at work in our world. These are the tools with which the World of Tomorrow must be made. They are all interesting and much effort has been expended to lay them before you in an interesting way. Familiarity with today is the best preparation for the future.'”

Are you inspired? Are you motivated? Do you feel a sense of conviction and empowerment about the Fair? Well, you should. Language such as what’s used here was specifically created to lift a nation out of a decade of economic depression.

Whether used to empower or mislead, language like this is full of glittering generalities. You’re told what will happen, how to think, and what it says. You can’t contend with the statement because it makes no decisive point (that is, contend in a way where you’re anything but the bad-guy). When used for the World’s Fair, there probably isn’t much wrong with language like this. But then the politicians learn it and the propagandists learn it and suddenly we hear a speech but no point. I’m thinking of a handful of pastors too.

A pile of words.

I know you’ve had this experience. The end of a talk arrives and you “feel” rather than “think” about what was said. Dialogues like this happen over and over again:

“What did you think of what he said today?”

“Oh, I loved it.”

“Really, what was your favorite part?”

“I don’t know exactly. It was just so right-on.”

Passion and motivation are critical. Choosing words carefully and tailoring them to your audience is wise. But I’d rather hear it more from the mouths of teachers and coaches than politicians.

When I go to vote, I like to put the onerous of change on someone else. But Jesus constantly reminds me to pray and in that discipline I am changed as much as I see change occur. I need a leader that’s not afraid to point out my faults. The next time I go to vote, I’ll write in Jesus.

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