Responsible Communication: Choosing Our Words

Our choices make up the sum of our leadership. A mature person realizes they are always “in choice.” This includes responsible speech.

Snarky business owner's sign.
Snarky business owner’s sign at the AMGEN Tour of California 2015 City of Lodi finish.

There is much confusion about free speech in the USA, especially during this election cycle, what with money being called speech and lies that would have ended campaigns drawing nothing but headlines. Leaders usually are held to a higher standard than the entitlement to say whatever they like. Leaders exercise responsibility when they act and are careful with their words. Oh where are the leaders today?

Marilyn Chandler McEntyre’s thesis in her excellent book, Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, is “if language is to retain its power to nourish and sustain our common life, we have to care for it in something like the way good farmers care for the soil.” (p 3) Years of hyperbolic advertising, yellow journalism, misrepresentations in political speech and fraud in business has depleted and polluted the English language. As English is the dominant language of the internet (80% of information is in English) and business, it is urgent to address the decline in literacy and commitment to truth.

She makes the case that to be good stewards of our language we need to do three things: 1) deepen and sharpen our reading skills; 2) cultivate habits of speaking and listening that foster precision and clarity; and 3) practice poesis–be makers and doers of the word. (p 9-10)

McEntyre gives 12 strategies to steward the English language:

  1. Love words.
  2. Tell the truth.
  3. Don’t tolerate lies.
  4. Read well.
  5. Stay in conversation.
  6. Share stories.
  7. Love the long sentence.
  8. Practice poetry.
  9. Attend to translation.
  10. Play.
  11. Pray.
  12. Cherish silence.

It has inspired me to make my word for the year: truth. I intend to focus on reducing my own tendency to hyperbolic enthusiasm, to take a Great Course on crafting better sentences, and to memorize poetry. It is a start.

There is an urgency that I hope you share with me. I just watched The Big Short at the movie theater. It can only be described as a comedy if you like black humor. High levels of deceit (and greed) in the world’s banking system led to a complete meltdown in 2008. The complicity of the regulatory and government agencies resulted in no one being held accountable and nothing enacted to avoid a repetition of the same calamity. The stakes are high on so many fronts.

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