Thursday, September 5, 2013

Adventures in English

Markéta Irglová is a 25 year old singer-songwriter from the Czech Republic who rose to, well, fame in certain circles for her role in the film Once, opposite Glen Hansard. For those of you who watched the film, odd thing I never realized: she was only 17 when they filmed Once. Woah! Also, by way of warning, do not watch this movie with my friend Skye Sant. She will punch you in the arm for making her watch a movie that made her emotional.

I agree with her, there is something about the English language that is quite shifty. For those of you English majors, yes I did look that up. Yes, shifty is what I mean. English lends itself to cover ups. We have so many nuances, and words to get around saying something. For instance, this week I sat in a meeting where someone was asked a very specific question. To me, there seemed to be only one true answer, but through the turning of words the question was never really answered at all. We all realized what was meant, but we let it go, because culturally we accept that what was said communicated in a satisfactory way, “Well, I didn’t get that done, as it were.”
If you know me well, you know that I can be a stickler for language. That is not to say I do not misuse or abuse language. I do that quite often in fact. But growing my family had fun with language. Because of that my family communicates with a humor unmatched by most of my friends and colleagues. We know how to turn phrases in all the best ways.
But the primary reason I can be a stickler for words, is because I know how to use dodgy language. I know how to not communicate something quite well in a way that in fact looks like I communicated quite a bit of pertinent information. This skill has come in handy in quite a few accountability situations. I sound quite vulnerable, while not sharing the things that are really important or overwhelming to me.
But on the flipside of this is I can get quite annoyed when people use certain phrases. There was a period of time where no one at Antioch-Belton would approach me with the phrase, “Let me be honest with you.” If they did, they would receive my usual diatribe that went along the lines of, “Oh, so has everything to this point been dishonest?” or “Oh, you have been less than honest in your communication before this? Why don’t you tell me how you were dishonest with me so I know what I can trust to be true?” Those poor folks. I was an aimless grammar Nazi who was trying to help them understand the power of words. And for that…I’m sorry ACC-Belton and others who fell into that same trap. (This picture came from here, and was the first one under a search for "shifty eyes."
One of the ways that my adventures in the English language has recently started to mature however is in the area of accountability. Wait. James, didn’t you just say, you know, two paragraphs ago, that you used your skills to avoid vulnerability and sharing? Why, yes, yes I did. And because of that, I have become a sort of royalty in terms of all things shifty. For example, I give you this very fake conversation as an example of how I have used my understanding of the way words are used to get around certain topics:
Me: So, man, how are things going? Have you had any struggles this week?
Bro: Well, I had a couple of slip-ups this week.
Me, after waiting for my bro to expound: Well, anything specific man?
Bro: Oh, you know, the normal. I slipped up with sexual purity, and some anger things.
Me: You know what, that is pretty dodgy. Slipped up with purity could communicate anything from you thought about someone impurely to you flew to Vegas and purchased time with a prostitute. And anger things could mean you let a cuss word slip when you stubbed your toe, to the fact that you are a mass murderer. Say what you mean. I’m not asking you these questions because I like it. I’m asking these things because you said you want accountability. If you want to be dodgy, let’s not waste our time, let’s instead go eat pizza or take a hike or watch Waking Ned Devine. 
First, I wouldn’t have this conversation with just anybody. You have to earn the right to speak to people like this. (That is a freebie, no offering required for that preaching point.) Second, I don't just approach people about stuff in their lives. I don't hold anyone accountable that doesn't ask me to...unless something is about to get crazy, and I can prevent that person from making a huge mistake.
Third, this is where a little maturity and revelation have taken something from my past that is a bit shady, and changed it to something not only for my good, but someone else’s. We have this crazy language that allows us to escape honesty and truth. Whether language is a reflection of our culture, or whether language has shaped the culture is an interesting thought to ponder, but isn’t really the point of this particular post. The fact is English and dodginess go hand-in-hand together. (And yes, I can make up words. I went to seminary and they let us get away with all sorts of fantastical phrases that the rest of the world frowns at…and in fact gave us degrees for doing so!)
Do with this post what you will. There may not seem to be an overarching point or lesson so to speak. But I think in the subtext what you can find here is a plea to say what you mean. Honesty and truth will always play to your benefit in the long run, whether it be simply in being understood, or having to explain yourself when you are caught after a lie. Or at least...say what you mean to me, because I will be examining your words and (not so) secretly judging you.

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