Using Your Language for Good

My favorite movie from last year was Darkest Hour, the story of Churchill’s early days as prime minister.

churchill2At the time, nearly the entire British army was trapped at Dunkirk, and Churchill endured extraordinary pressure to make a deal with Hitler. Compressing several episodes from Churchill’s political life and speeches into those early days, the film portrays his unwillingness to compromise as a critical factor in the war’s eventual outcome.

My favorite quote comes near the end, when Churchill gives a stirring speech in parliament that suddenly turns opinion in his favor. “What just happened?” asks his harshest critic. 

“He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle,” answers Halifax.

And as a writer, everything within me whispered, Yes!

That fabulous line was actually first written by Edward R. Murrow about Churchill, but it falls within the artistic license of the filmmakers to capture the mood of the moment in the movie.

And it’s stirring because it confirms what we already know: Words are powerful. Discourse changes hearts and minds and lives. The pen—and the voice—really are mightier than the sword.

It’s also stirring, at least to me, because I believe the world’s greatest untapped force for good is already sitting at their keyboards. They face perhaps the world’s greatest force for lies, misdirection, and verbal venom—also sitting at keyboards—and need to be mobilized against it. 

The truth is already out there. It just needs to be articulated by people who know how to respond in the right spirit—and who may not know their calling yet. 

In other words, we need an army of communicators who can mobilize their language and send it into battle.

Honestly, folks, when I read the comments in online forums about faith—and it’s amazing how often they go in that direction, even when the forum began on another topic—I start to feel sick. 

People who have some agenda against the Christian faith sometimes make good arguments, and often they are quite civil and intelligent about it. But it doesn’t surprise me when some are just pointlessly rude and disparaging. What I don’t expect, however, is for people of faith to respond in the same spirit, with insults and bitterness and ridiculously shallow arguments. (Actually I do expect that now, but only because I’ve seen it so often. That’s why it’s so disturbing.)

This is why I lead writing workshops and speak at writers’ conferences—not because I love writing so much but because I see the potential. Most public discourse now happens online. That’s a huge showroom in the marketplace of ideas. This is where the battle is.

In whatever ways you communicate, whether in writing or public speaking or normal conversation, take Halifax’s line in Darkest Hour to heart. Learn how to mobilize the language and send it into battle—with patience, grace, truth, love, and at least some modicum of reason and intelligence.

The world will be better for it. Important battles will be won by those who wield their words well. 

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©2013-17 by chris tiegreen