Okay, so President Bush isn’t likely to receive the moniker “The Great Communicator.” Even his family takes some loving jabs at his verbal faux pas.
Here is a collage of videos illustrating his struggle with the English language.
The above video was actually one of the more respectful of the many that can be found on the internet.
The battle that is waged between President Bush and words is not something which has been fabricated by his political enemies. It is real. So, how can I say the following?
and there is much the Church can learn from him.
If we are going to talk about effective communication, we must first define it. Effective communication is not eloquence, it is about your listener grasping the meaning you are trying to convey in words.
George Bush is no Demosthenes. He is not even a William Safire or William F. Buckley. But, people know what George Bush believes — they know where he stands. Consider the following excerpt from Frank Luntz’ book Words That Work ;
His syntax and grammar are often a mess, and he often has trouble completing an off-the-cuff thought, but to Orwell’s line of thinking, that is “of no importance” because he “makes his meaning clear.” For those who can’t fathom why he won the presidency, here’s why. He succeeded against opponents who were arguably intellectually his superior in an economic and electoral environment that should have favored the Democratic opponent precisely because voters knew exactly where he stood. You may wince at his butchering of the English language, but he gets his meaning across–which was not always the case with Al Gore or John Kerry. His conviction always came through…. But, good communication requires conviction and authenticity; being a walking dictionary is optional. (pages 51-52)
What can the Church learn from President Bush about effective communication? Keep the simple gospel message the simple gospel message.
We should be creative and innovative and well-spoken, but our attempts to reach others with the message of Jesus Christ fall short if our words are ambiguous, if our medium draws all the attention, or if we fail the conviction and authenticity test.
Have you ever heard a preacher spend five minutes of a sermon discussing Greek or Hebrew syntax? Of course you have. Was it really beneficial to your understanding? Sometimes, but rarely.
How many people really understand when a preacher speaks about hamartiology, hagiography, the intertestamental period, or modified eschatological dualism. Each of these are important topics which need to be addressed in a manner that is intellectually stimulating to followers of Christ. However, under most circumstances listeners would more clearly understand the speaker if he would instead address the problem of sin, our understanding of the Holy Spirit and his work, the historical period between the Old Testament and New Testament, and the tension between Jesus’ inauguration of the Kingdom of God and its fulfillment.
Because communication is listener based, eloquence and sophisticated argument may not result in effective communication.
Consider the following example;
Where an average critic of the Bush administration could attack its foreign policy for “going it alone,” John Kerry felt the need to offer “a bold, progressive internationalism that stands in stark contrast to the too often belligernet and myopic unilateralism of the Bush Administration.” Huh? (Words That Work, page 5)
The message of Jesus Christ is the most important message in the world. Those of us who are called to share it must take care to ensure that we are communicating it as effectively as possible. One of the lessons which we must learn can be drawn from the example of George Bush — keep it simple.
George Orwell offered the following helpful advice on how to keep it simple:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
I hope I kept this blog post simple enough to be useful to you.
- George Orwell’s essay on Politics and the English Language
- C.H. Spurgeon on Pompous Language, Pretentious Preachers, and Post-Evangelical Doctrine
- What the Church can learn from Oprah about effective communication
- Select quotes on effective communication
- Context in communication
- I’ll Have the Tall Skim Double-Shot Cinnamon Dolce Jesus, Please.