The Hole of Wit
Let’s talk about the state of our national dialogue, which has become increasingly strident, with name-calling, character assaults and thoughtless throw-offs the standard of the day. It is tiresome stuff. In bars perhaps this can be expected, but in our media (including blogs) we need to strive for a higher standard.
My fear is that national derision, which is more potent today given the technology at hand, will literally tear the nation in two. In last-century Spain, taunts devolved into political meetings, riots and a civil war.
We need to ensure our efforts are safer, as well as more entertaining. What we need is more wit. It provides a standard of intelligence, as well as self-protection. I have four prescriptions for this:
- Be original.
Remember the first football spectator you saw shirtless and in body paint? A heavy set guy, rooting for his team in a snowstorm? He made a statement about the team and about himself. He brought a smile and created a memory.
The second guy to take his shirt off? Just a future pneumonia patient who needed a shower.
- Show some grace. The true sign of a wit is a sign that you are willing to concede something to the other point of view. Give a little. You get extra points for self-effacement at the same time. The gold standard for this in our time is Ronald Regan’s criticism of Bill Clinton in the 1992 Republican convention. Reagan had always been criticized for being too old for government work, and his speech tipped his hat to an old adversary, Senator Lloyd Bentzen, by borrowing his words in a new way:
“This fellow they’ve nominated claims he’s the new Thomas Jefferson. Well let me tell you something; I knew Thomas Jefferson. He was a friend of mine and Governor, you’re no Thomas Jefferson!”
You don’t care about grace, you say? Well then, you have two choices: either be forgettable, or show no grace. If you are forgettable, why bother? And if you want to show no grace, are you willing to be remembered for it?
- Measured. Hey, take it easy! I was once fulminating about one thing or another and a friend stopped me. “It’s as if you think this is the end of the Republic,” he said. “We’ll survive that, don’t you think?”
He was right. I was taking the headline of the moment and making it into an epic of disaster proportions. Taxes, education, energy, even military might … all are topics we can discuss today and tomorrow. No topic is worth ending the discussion forever. Only nuclear bombs have the final word.
- Secular. Messiahs and prophets know the mind of the Almighty. But these people are in short supply and probably don’t need a blog. What is not currently in short supply is the number of figures who confuse their opinions with sacred words. Dueling religious prescriptions do not change any minds.
If you are simply interested in using your spare time to declaim your faith, might I suggest you go door-to-door? Among other benefits, you will experience an abundance of healthful fresh air.
Sign up for the free IB Update — your weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices and the names you need to know. Click here.