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Three Brief Thoughts: Evil Jargon, Good Quotes, and Great Books

Evil Jargon

If there is one thing that I aspire to in my writing, it is clarity.  I want to think clear thoughts, and I want to write clear words.  With clarity comes a better glimpse of the truth.  Language has such a power to communicate the truth of our existence, but it also has an unmatched power to blind us from the same truth.  We build mighty walls around our minds and hearts with empty words mortared by ignorance.  And, unfortunately, we are guilty of building the same walls around those with whom we interact.  When we resort to jargon (words used by a particular group that have  little meaning to outsiders) we put up more walls.  Jargon is in direct conflict with the truth found in Christianity.  Only a fool, or a young child would build walls just to break them down and build them again.  Jargon is an enemy of truth and therefore in direct opposition to the message found in the bible.

Good Quotes

“There are two people who provide the entire world with quotations: Names and Anonymous.”

I wrote that quote.  Is it true, or is it clever?  Does it matter?  It seems to me that most of the quotes that we use come from famous individuals.  Regular people say all kinds of great things throughout their lives, but who cares?  You have to make a name for yourself, or the quote has to be so incredible that people forget your name and you become Mr. Anonymous.  So the next time you see a quote, ask yourself if it’s truly insightful, or if it is something you could have said at a party.

Great Books

I love movies, but more and more I see the advantage of books.  How many times have you heard someone say, “The book was better than the movie”?  In almost all cases the book is more enjoyable than the movie.  The Harry Potter series is perhaps the best modern example.  Is there one person who truly appreciates the books who will then say that the movies are greater?  To claim that the movies are better would undermine the foundation of the series, and prove to everyone that you don’t actually appreciate the story.  Even though Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the greatest cinematic achievements of all-time, you would be hard pressed to find a fan who didn’t believe wholeheartedly that the books were far greater.  The magic of books is found in the intimacy between author and reader.  The author transports you to a place inside of your own mind where the both of you can go on a fantastic journey.  Isn’t that a beautiful thing?  Let’s value great books.

Teachers of Truth

To lift an autumn hair is no sign of great strength; to see sun and moon is no sign of great sight; to hear the noise of thunder is no sign of a quick ear.

-Sun Tzu (The Art of War, IV:10)

This verse comes from The Art of War , which was a war manual written by a long family line of Chinese generals discovered in the early 1900’s.  You may be wondering about the relevance of ancient war tactics to the modern life.  And it is simply this: Though our worldviews may differ, we are all brought into a position of leadership and strategy.  This is evident from our broad relationships in society down to the finite ones in our families and close circles of friends.  And for Christians, this is even more evidently revealed in God’s Word (Matthew 28:19, Ephesians 6:12).  We are destined to lead whether for good or bad (leadership), and to do it well (strategy).  To deny these positions of leadership is to deny our innate responsibility as humans.  And from what sources can we learn to lead strategically, but the forerunners before us, in this case a family who refined their wisdom into an art form for warfare?

For this verse (and first guest blog post), I want to reflect upon where we obtain truth.  Chapter IV in TAOW is titled ‘Dispositions’, or our moods/attitudes.  And this verse hits upon the single point of identifying ourselves through the obvious.  Just because you can pick up, see, or hear something that is extremely easy and clear to sense upon, doesn’t reveal a great ability of physical feats.  We can only identify feats of strength through years of discipline and training.  Great strength comes from building power, great sight and hearing comes from learning to differentiate the white noise and trace out what one is looking for.  It is a matter of looking beyond the obvious, the experience and training behind the image.

As clear and simple it is understand the proverb in terms of mere physique, it brings about the question of how we understand our world.  Do we evaluate others and ourselves on mere appearances alone?  If so, how we judge ourselves and others can be simple critiques of what we see.  We simply see this group or that idea in terms of right and wrong.  Having such a disposition, we may not see truth when we come across it.  For we have already blinded ourselves to the possibility of something being wrong.  Though the words may communicate something we completely disagree or agree with, truth is also revealed beneath the words that are spoken.  At each mouth that opens is a mind, soul, and spirit that drives the words produced.  Find the core of what people are saying, and you will understand truth, not necessarily in the sense of understanding right and wrong, but the messages people believe and follow.  To take the principle of physical prowess, image and the obvious reveals nothing, but the character that lies below.

I have included below a video of short sound bites from different people trying to communicate an idea.  The video sample below isn’t to choose the rightness of one message over the other, but an exercise to extrapolate the message they are actually saying:

Thanks for reading!

(Joel Lee is a contributor for Thoughts of a Post-Grad TwentySomething.  Read more of his work at The Wordsmith Apprentice)

The Road Less Travelled is The Road Not Taken

Robert Frost published a poem in 1916 called The Road Not Taken.  At no point in time did he publish a poem under the title, The Road Less Travelled.  I point this out because I used to believe that he did in fact publish a poem with that title, but when I re-examined the actual poem in college I was surprised to find that the poem I thought I knew didn’t exist.  Here is the poem.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

 

The popular interpretation of this poem is that it is inspirational.  It is said to be a celebration of individuality and courage.  Sure, that can be found in the poem, but in which parts?  I will make those parts bold.

 

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

 

If you focus on certain parts, you can extract that inspirational meaning.   The poet faced a difficult decision at a time in his life.  He made the choice to follow his own path, which is less travelled because most people choose the easier path.  That choice has made all the difference in his life, and the poet is glad.

That’s all well and good, but if you really look at what the poem is saying, I don’t believe you will come to the same conclusion.

First, consider the title.  It isn’t called The Road Less Travelled, but The Road Not Taken.  The subject of the title is the path that the poet did not take.  I had a professor tell me once that the title of the poem was The Road Less Travelled.  When I assured him that he was mistaken, he went home and did his homework.  Then he apologized.  This isn’t to say that I’m awesome, only to show you how easy it is to ignore the true title of this poem.  It makes a huge difference when you see this.

Second, consider some of these critical lines.

And sorry I could not travel both

Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay

Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

 

We learn that the poet judged both paths to be about equal.  When he made the choice he had some difficulty because they both appeared to be good options.  He is sorry he couldn’t travel both.  Also notice that he is telling this with a sigh.  Is this a happy sigh?  It seems more like a sigh that would accompany melancholy.  This is the case if he is thinking about the road he didn’t take.  And notice that he doesn’t say anything positive about taking the road less travelled.  He only says that it made all the difference.  Is it a positive difference, or a negative difference, or a neutral difference?  What do you think?

Third , Robert Frost was one of America’s greatest poets.  Does it make more sense that his poem would be simply inspirational?  Or, does it make more sense that it is layered and not so easily pinned down?  Follow your own path kids, and you will achieve success!

And finally, read these words from Frost himself.  (I found this after I came to my own conclusion) 

“I wasn’t thinking about myself there, but about a friend who had gone off to war, a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn’t go the other. He was hard on himself that way.” August 1953

 

 

Why did I go through the trouble to write about this poem?  For one, it’s one of the few English related things that I’m a snob about.  I admit it.  But that’s not the main reason I wrote this.

I want you to see how easy it is to miss the substance of something if you only give it a cursory glance.  This is a good example since people are often using the poem for simple inspiration and misrepresenting the title.

Do we do this with other things?

Things that really matter?

 

 

 

The Iron Rod Illustration

I’ve decided to take a brief break from the Friendship series in order to describe to you something that I have been developing for quite some time.  It is my theory on how to write an outstanding essay.

Imagine that it is the first day of school and I walk into class holding a four-foot long iron rod…

This iron rod illustrates your essay.  But what is it, really?  It is your thesis!  The entire substance of your essay is found in this structure.  You have no essay apart from it.  From one end to the other, everything is your thesis.  Consider the qualities of this iron rod.  Does it break off in the middle?  Is there an empty space between the top and the bottom?  Absolutely not.  It is solid throughout.  This is the chief quality of an outstanding essay.  It has a clear, solid thesis through and through.  The thesis is your purpose for writing the essay.  It is the subject and the substance.  An essay without a purpose from introduction to conclusion is not worth writing, and it is certainly not worth reading.

I also want you to consider the space around this iron rod.  What holds it up?  The ground!  It is grounded.  Your essays must be grounded in truth, evidence, and logic.  This iron rod can’t be held up by opinions.  Opinions are bright-colored insects.  All they can do is distract.  All they can do is cover up the iron rod.  What do we say about evidence?  What does it do?  It supports!  Supports what?  The thesis!  Your thesis must be supported.

The iron rod is resting on the ground, but it is also pointing up to the sky.  Only a strong and grounded thesis can point up like this.  So what does this mean?   An outstanding essay enables us to consider loftier things.  It allows us to contemplate the larger implications of your thesis.  It points to infinity.  This means that an essay is not limited to what you have written.  If it is outstanding, it will extend far beyond anything you could imagine.

At this point I would take out a roll of brightly colored string.  This string represents the elements of style.  It is proper grammar.  It is metaphor.  It is your own unique voice.  Everything that makes the essay more pleasurable to read.  Then I would wrap the string around the iron rod.  Notice that this string clings tightly to the iron rod.  Anything you do to enrich your writing will mean nothing if it is not wrapped tightly around your thesis.  The string leaves most of the iron rod still visible, just as style should never get in the way of substance.  Style must never get in the way of substance!

And that is it.  That is my Iron Rod Illustration on how to write an outstanding essay.

Like Like Like Like Like Like: A Word On Verbal Pauses

The first time I really became aware of verbal pauses was in my ninth grade public speaking class.  After my teacher pointed them out, I couldn’t help but notice them everywhere.

A verbal pause occurs when you use an audible filler to occupy the space between real words.  Examples of verbal pauses include, but are not limited to: Like, um, ah, you know, etc.   If you’re not paying attention, it is easy to ignore their presence in normal conversation.   I once sat through an entire semester listening to a professor lecture without realizing that he said “Alright” at the end of almost every sentence.  After another student pointed it out, I spent the final lecture struggling not to break out into laughter.  There was no way I could pay any attention to the content of his speech.

It’s as if we are terrified of silence.  Some people talk incessantly, and others turn to the ever reliable verbal pause.  There is another thing called a pregnant pause.  This is when you pause without speaking between words.  This is a better practice than cramming your speech with meaningless filler.  Better to say nothing silently than nothing loudly.

Imagine if we used verbal pauses in writing.  They might be called written pauses.  Like, if I like, I don’t know, used all these, um, words to say that I think it’s like a huge waste of, you know, time and energy to use all of these, like, um, ah, extraneous words.

But who am I to judge everyone?  I do the same thing.  I try not to.  Knowing is half the battle. Start paying attention to this in your own conversations.  It just might drive you insane.

The Qualifier

The Dark Knight is better than The Notebook.
I think The Dark Knight is better than The Notebook.

Friendly’s is a better restaurant than Longhorn Steakhouse.
In my opinion, Friendly’s is a better restaurant than Longhorn Steakhouse.

We can’t go walking around spouting absolute statements all of the time. Absolutely not. But, we do have to be aware of the language we use. In the time that we live, I believe that we are erring on the side of caution. Less willing to stand by a truth outside of our own opinion.

If 16 years of schooling has taught me anything it is that every claim needs to be backed up with evidence, or proof. When you make a statement without such a qualifier as, I think, you should expect to be challenged. This is true among friends and teachers. And sometimes even the safety of the qualifier isn’t enough to protect you from recoil. For instance, “I think the Jonas Brothers are better than the Beatles.” You should be destroyed for saying such a thing.

This demand for proof is one reason we fall back on the qualifiers. With a qualifier, proof isn’t as important because it’s my opinion or your opinion. How difficult it is to argue based on opinions.

I hope your deepest beliefs aren’t opinions. I hope they are built on a foundation of reason and proven true through the fires of experience.

The Unabridged Golden Rule

You’ve heard it many times; do unto others as you would have them do to you. To put it a different way, treat people the way you want to be treated. This is commonly referred to as The Golden Rule. Did you know that this is only the second part of a two part command?

Here is the complete Golden Rule.
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)

Love your neighbor (other people) as yourself. Immediately we have to ask, “What is love”? And not only what it is but also, “How can I love other people as I love myself”?
Certainly, everyone will have an answer in some form or another to both questions, and those answers will shape their understanding of love and their ability to express it. This is why I believe that the first part of the command is far more important than the second. The first part is the substance.

Jesus was saying that in order to truly love people, you have to love him (God) first. To the follower of Christ, what is love apart from God? What is the Golden Rule apart from God?

Who do you love?

A Warning Against Language Manipulation


A man walks into your house. He goes into your living room and proceeds to unplug the television. You find him as he’s about to lift it away. Before you say a word he says, “Excuse me, can you tell me the best way to move this television out of the house? I have back issues and I’m looking to reduce the strain this may cause.”
You are stunned for a moment, but then reply, “I’m sorry about your back. The easiest way is to go down the hall and out the back door. Then you won’t have to worry about the stairs.”
The burglar then leaves with your television. How could this happen?

I know that scenario sounds ridiculous, and it is, but it illustrates an aspect of verbal confrontation that I’ve been made more aware of as time goes by.

How did the burglar get away?

We understand that the main issue at hand is the stealing of the television. And we can assume that the burglar and the victim understand the same thing. But what happened?

The burglar immediately set the terms of the conversation, which were designed to distract, confuse, and manipulate the victim’s thoughts and emotions. But any reasonable person would see through this and get right back to the main issue of the robbery. Right?
Where the victim loses both their television and the confrontation is the moment they accept the terms of the conversation. Now the conversation is about the easiest way to move the television and not about whether the television should be moved in the first place.

It’s like a child who asks their parent how many pieces of candy they can have instead of if they can have candy in the first place. The focus turns to quantity, bypassing the issue of legitimacy, and if the parent isn’t aware they will submit to these terms.

If you engage in conversation or debate, be aware of what you are accepting when you begin to respond to a statement or claim.
Perhaps you are hit with an “either/ or” which forces you to choose one of the options presented, when in fact both options should be dismissed. Or maybe it’s a “Yes or No” topic that isn’t that simple. And back to the first example, which turned a “Why” conversation into a “How”.

Just figured I’d share that little tidbit.