Words are all we have…..

1 Mar

Lies

Lying to the young is wrong

Proving to them

that lies are true

is wrong…

Forgive no error

You recognise

it will repeat itself

a hundredfold

and afterward

our pupils

will not forgive in us

what we forgave.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko wrote this a year before Stalin died. It became a poem I used as part of a GCSE English course. The theme was Lies.

The Donald has banned certain journalists from press conferences because they question his perversions-of-truth. It’s a smart move, given that CNN, the BBC and others have affiliations not only to a liberal, left-leaning, intelligent-elite but also to the truth. It is hard to find a world leader who is less articulate than The Trumpmeister. Assad, for example, is smooth as silk in his second language.

It is interesting that articulating a powerful message requires neither elegant language nor truth. Language – and how we speak – has cultural identifiers. We either trust smooth-talkers or we don’t. In the days of Churchill and MacMillan we trusted their accent and background and believed that they were in the politics game to serve, rather than line their own pockets. Trust has become a fickle commodity. Recently vast numbers have chosen to vote on an anti-instinct. That is, many have wanted to kick the political elite (seen as self-serving), Europe (seen as a monolithic expenses-heavy, bureaucracy) and immigration (seen as the root of all evil and terrorism) into touch.

The language, the millions of words spoken and printed may have made a difference. Sensationalised out-of-context headlines, bare-faced lies and opportunistic politicians have persuaded the many that Westminster doesn’t do it for them. The coining of ‘post-truth’ is spot on.

America is set on a McCarthyist path, except it’s not Reds under the beds but Muslims and Mexicans. The UK is heading for a split; too many honest politicians don’t think politics is worth wasting time and words on. Better on books and speeches. Integrity is a distant hope. If anyone watched the first Meet the Lords last night, our upper chamber, supposedly the check on Parliament, looked more like a gentlemen’s club enjoying ermine and champagne-privilege at our expense. ‘Twas ever thus, some say. I still cling to the hope that there are a few honest Joes and Josephines (more of the latter probably) who want to do a proper job.

We know that language gets changed, abused, scrambled and perverted daily. It’s been well-documented that the truth, going forward, is rudely unhealthy. News is, apparently, fake. Hyperbole is our new default mode. Awesome, obscene and amazing lead a new vocabulary which demands the sensational over the accurate. Examples of the galloping blurring of clarity include: exclamation marks (OMG!!!); the ubiquitous misuse of apostrophes; ignorance of verb tenses; restricted and inaccurate vocabulary; thinking semi-colons are half-arses. When clarity and accuracy with language matter less than the force of the message, we become prey to dangerous predators. Enemies of the People! Of course social media is almost made for exaggeration but when the discourse is serious, we should rise to the occasion.

Spinning is both a fitness activity and a massaging of truth. Neither was in my lexicon growing up. The former does a lot more good than the latter. I spent a working life trying to tell the truth to schoolchildren. Messages in schools tend to be honest and simple:be kind to others; tolerate, indeed embrace difference; work hard; speak properly; obey simple rules; scrutinize claims; have fun. As an English teacher there was a world of language and literature to explore. All human life, so much richness. As a sports guy there was teamwork and spirit and sportsmanship and skill. William Blake signalled how the world can be a very different place when youth metamorphoses into adulthood. The bubble of Innocence become the sea of experience. Language is hi-jacked for self-seeking intentions and what seems to be the case, no longer is.

Scrutiny of claims, of so-called facts, of evidence, of language is vital to our well-being. I note the many European politicians who speak English with a precision and clarity rivalling, or bettering some of our own political movers and shakers. We have been distracted by soundbites. We need to return to proper scrutiny of our leaders and their language. Why do TV and radio journalists accept evasions by politicians, for example? Just end the interview. Why accept any alternative versions of fact other than the independently accredited ones? We have allowed a state of affairs where facts are malleable, versions of reality to be bashed into a different shape to suit a spurious cause. Shame on us all.

As often happens when I’m on a roll, the Bee Gees jump to mind. How Barry Gibb manages his hair and teeth these days, goodness only knows. The legacy of this Aussie-Brit trio, now sadly solo, goes beyond Travolta gyrations, Summer Lovin’ and the Steps’ cover of Tragedy. Plenty of memorable, simple language.

You think that I don’t even mean

A single word I say.

It’s only words

And words are all I have

To take your heart away.

 

 

 

 

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One Response to “Words are all we have…..”

  1. Gordon Mcginn March 3, 2017 at 8:11 am #

    Our mother simply said to us “If you tell the truth you never have to remember anything “

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