Finding the words

There are some situations where the right words are so hard to find.  When someone has been bereaved or heard some bad news, “I’m so sorry” doesn’t seem to go that far.  At least it doesn’t go too far wrong.  Perhaps in some situations, silence is preferable.  If it’s possible to communicate to someone that you are there for them without saying anything, that may be the best way forward.  I think it was St Francis of Assisi who said “Preach the gospel always; if necessary, use words”.  The idea that we can share our faith without saying anything about it has a definite appeal but might be considered a bit of a cop-out.

Sometimes, something has to be said.  Peter wrote about always being prepared to give an answer when someone asks us why we have faith, but to be careful to reply with gentleness and respect.  This seems a good yardstick to me – it gives you an attitude to aim for, even if it leaves you to figure out the words to use.  I’m not saying it’s easy, but responding to a genuine question about a faith issue seems a lot more natural, less forced, than starting a conversation with evangelism in mind.  Even then, there’s still the matter of confidence in speaking, and I know that’s a real barrier for some people.

Since delivering lectures is now something I’m paid to do, I guess I’m grateful not to suffer from the kind of anxiety or speech difficulties that featured in the film I saw with my parents today – The King’s Speech.  Others have praised this film more eloquently than I shall attempt, but I would highly recommend it.  Colin Firth gives an outstanding performance as King George VI and is supported by an excellent cast and production team.  It was painful to watch him struggle to communicate and stand up to those who should have supported him, most poignantly his father and his brother.  The story of achievement against the odds for the good of the Country married with such quality acting seems an Oscar-winning combination to me.

Over the next few weeks I need to be making some final corrections to my thesis and some of these involve careful re-wording.  I used the term ‘cop-out’ as I did above and have been told this is a bit too colloquial.  I was trying to find another word – ‘evasive’ was the suggestion from my supervisor, and this fits the situation I was describing even though it is not a direct synonym.  Another term I need to re-phrase is how I told the staff I was observing that I would be writing things down, even ‘juicy details’.  My frustration that this is what I said is not enough to allow me to include it in the thesis.  My external examiner’s angle – that this could be inappropriate considering my subject matter is a reasonable point, even though I mainly meant gossip or complaints about others rather than case information.  ‘Particular details’ doesn’t convey the same at all.  I shall probably need to completely re-write the sentence.  It’s too late to argue the points now – I just have to make the changes and get the thing signed off.

The task of finding 80,000 words for a PhD thesis required significant investment of time and energy.  The task of finding 3,000 words for an assignment, or keeping to a smaller number for other tasks is a discipline meant to engage our brains, not our copy and paste skills.  Sometimes it might feel like someone else has already written more than enough on any given subject.  The access we have via the internet and various search tools means we have more information at our immediate disposal than our grandparents might have ever imagined.  I downloaded far more articles than I actually read for my studies.  Actually learning something requires more engagement – but sometimes it becomes clearer as we write about it.  Sometimes I don’t know what I think about something until I write or talk about it to someone.  What do you think?

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