Monday, December 13, 2010

Getting the max out of the words we use

I do not think one has to shift one's personal judgements as to the faults and foibles, or successes and victories of controversial politicians such as the recent sequence of US presidents, Clinton, Bush and Obama, when recognising particular abilities each has. In the following citation, written after an unexpected moment in the White House press room in which Bill Clinton was at the podium in the absence of President Obama, note the astute, clever, and exemplary communication abilities of Clinton. The background story is huge controversy over whether extending tax cuts to the rich or not would be good for America mired in recession, associated with continuing concern by Democrats as to whether Obama is communicating well, his decisions and the reasons for them:

"The contrast wasn’t as great as I might have expected, because we got the wonky Clinton, who somehow wound up talking about wind turbines in Nevada, rather than the feel-your-pain Clinton. But the body language was instructive. Obama tends to stand straight, as if addressing a law school class; Clinton kept putting his hand over his heart, as if to signal he’s speaking with sincerity.

Clinton instantly personalized the debate, saying that as a rich guy, he would benefit from the GOP’s insistence on tax cuts for the wealthy. “You know how I feel,” he told reporters. “I think people who benefit the most should pay the most—not for class-warfare reasons, but for reasons of fairness and rebuilding the middle class in America.” He made the case right there, in one sentence.

Clinton thanked the Republican leaders for their concessions, appearing gracious rather than grudging. “There’s never a perfect bipartisan bill in the eyes of a partisan,” he said." (My italics).

The exemplary notes here, in respect of preaching, are these:

(1) Finding a way to personalise doctrine.

(2) Minimising the number of words which 'make the case' for the theological argument which drives our sermon along (or, in other words, finding the shortest, most memorable way to state the message we are bringing to the congregation).

(3) Acknowledging human failings and the painful realities of life with grace (rather than, as the case may be, with complaint, condemnation, or self-pity).

(4) Doing all the above with body language that works with, not against, the tenor of what we are saying.

The preachers we judge to be 'great' will almost certainly exemplify the same great communicative traits that Bill Clinton demonstrates here.

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