Language and Leadership

I recently had the opportunity to overhear a conversation that warmed my heart. It made me hopeful for the future. It reminded me that truth will always find a way out, no matter who tries to lock it up. It reminds me that in every generation, God gifts some with special talents and extra intellect. It reminds me that we must never stop praying for the upcoming generations. When we look at those in leadership in our nation and our states and our cities, we may be very tempted to wonder if he skipped a generation or two.

The conversation that encouraged me took place between a thirteen-year-old boy and a fifty-year-old man. The man asked about something the boy had recently done for a club at school. The boy had made a speech on the subject of global warming as a project for a debate in the club. When asked what side he took, the boy replied that he spoke about man-made global warming as a hoax.

The older man was surprised. “A hoax?” he asked. “What made you think it was a hoax?” The boy replied that he went to the library and found a great deal of information about weather and climate that refuted the allegations of people who support the claims for man-made global warming.

“Well,” the man said, “What led you to choose this subject?” The boy replied that he overheard two people in a drug store talking about the weather. Both were concerned because of the severe winter and the lingering cold weather after the first day of spring. “They couldn’t understand why it was cold,” he said, “but they both said it didn’t prove that there was no global warming.”

“What did you think?” the man asked. “I decided I would just look for whatever I could find, and then I would know,” the boy replied.

Lest you think this boy was coached, I must assure you that he was not. This boy spoke without any help from anyone. He had no notes. His mother did not interrupt to correct things. He did not even have a teleprompter. He never stopped to say “uh … uh … uh….” He also did not use the words “like” or “awesome.” He spoke in complete, grammatically correct sentences.

It was a pleasure to listen to this conversation for a variety of reasons.

First, the boy was coherent and confident. At the age of thirteen, he knows when he knows something, and he is able to communicate what he knows in clear language. His communication skills are not only exceptional by comparison with many young people his own age. His communication skills exceed those of the President of the United States. It makes me sad when I hear a young person who is not able to say what he means. It is like watching someone trapped in a net. It is a crying shame to hear an adolescent who is unable to say what he means or to tell a story in language that permits the hearer to enjoy the experience. Children who want to describe a magnificent sight struggle saying “It’s like you know awesome! Amazing!” and nobody really knows what they are talking about.

Second, the boy thought for himself. He didn’t say that his teacher told him that man-made global warming is a myth. He also did not say that his teacher told him that man-made global warming is the coming Armageddon. In fact, it was quite impressive that he used the term “man-made global warming” rather than simply “global warming.” He knew the difference in the meaning of the two phrases. He recognized that the real subject of the political debate is whether the world is getting warmer because of human use of fossil fuel. He did not confuse that proposition with any observations of the natural geology, astronomy and meteorology of the earth.

Finally, he was humble. Matter-of-fact. He never even referred to the proponents of man-made global warming at all. He talked about the ideas, but he did not talk about advocates for any viewpoint. No argumentum ad hominem. He did not refer to his feelings about either side of the argument. He simply discussed the issue and his research methods. I could not tell if he felt proud of his work or validated by winning an argument. He did not seem to care what anyone else thought or felt about what he believed to be truth.

To hear this conversation made me feel something. Peace. Sometimes I wonder what will become of the world when the last thinker dies. When I listen to commentators on television who are unable to distinguish fact from opinion or who believe they have performed astute analysis when they dream up a label that scornfully dismisses and belittles the opposition. Sometimes I despair of the future. Every so often I hear someone speak with the coherence and confidence of this young man, and then, no matter the age of the speaker, I relax. Recently speeches by Dr. Ben Carson and Marco Rubio have had that sort of effect on me. They speak of the world around us in terms that make sense, and they speak of ideas that fit with reality. They know the difference between facts, ideas, and wishful thinking. They do not need to destroy someone else’s reputation in order to build up their own.

This young boy spoke in that manner. It was refreshing and comforting and inspiring. This is what God hoped for when he gave human beings, alone among all the animals, the gift of speech. It is God’s gift of speech that allows him to communicate with us in the Bible. Yet people who are unable to communicate with other people will never get the message of the Bible. Someone whose vocabulary is limited to “whatever” and “weird” will not absorb the passion which shapes the psalms or the lofty rhetoric of Paul’s writings. God is able to communicate in the language of spirit, and people can, too, but the fact is that most of us find comfort in meaningful language. To hear a young person who is comfortable in his native language is encouraging. All great leaders have the gift of language, the lack of which is one of the reasons our President flounders in communicating his agenda. Whether or not one agrees with his agenda, it is painful to wait while he labors to find his way to a complete sentence on the subject.

I am probably too easily impressed. Maybe you hear gifted young children every day. I don’t. I know there are some. I have grandchildren among whom there are a couple of talented speakers. Still, it is a treasure like the pearl of great price Jesus spoke of.

Pray for the leaders we have today. Pray that they will have the gift to see truth and to speak truth. Pray for the children and their teachers. Pray that they, too, will have the gift to see truth and to speak truth. Pray that they will learn to use the gift of language with skill and integrity. Then there will be hope for the future.