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OFF CENTRE: ‘Bad’ men and good ideas


Sherwyn Walters

OFF CENTRE: ‘Bad’ men and good ideas

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LAST WEEK I could have lambasted people for massecreting the English language.
Lord knows that what dribbles or gushes out of pen, pencil, mouth and keyboard often falls disturbingly short of the lofty possibilities of human communication. Spelling mistakes, mangled idioms, awkward constructions, subjects and verbs in discord . . . . Wuhloss! Sometimes it terrible.
But have you ever wondered why with immorality swirling all around him, Jesus seemed more interested in going after those who pontificated about high moral standards (the Pharisees and scribes, in particular) rather than their immoral (no disputing that!) targets?
You never noticed that His most severe barbs were reserved for the harsh, arrogant “moral guardians” and He consorted with “publicans and sinners” and women of the night, and even turned the tables on the morally high and mighty when they brought him a woman caught “in the very act” of adultery? Nuff to mek yuh think He was subversive to the ends of religion and morality!
I suspect that He realised the awful consequences of bad men getting their “hands” (heads) on good ideas.
And, unfortunately, despite His best efforts, most people have let their bad sides take over once they think others are wrong. Virtually all religions (the one attached to Jesus ranking high among them) have a long history of tormenting others in pursuit of good, essentially “for their own good”. (And I say this as a Christian.)
This idea, this cause is too good for people not to align themselves with it. So crusade, coerce, beat, kill – all in the name of a good idea.
So in the name of “good” use of language: broadcast the misdeed, deride, shame.
But check C.S. Lewis: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.
“The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do it with the approval of their own conscience.”
Me? I decided I would not torment anybody last week.
For centuries, language “delinquents” have been the subject of avalanches of derision and contempt.
Yet the language lapses have increased. And we ourselves number among the fallen. But because we are so sanctimonious and contemptuous, we have to find all manner of ways to hide our errors, all sorts of dishonesties, excuses, diversions, et cetera.
I think we, too, could more profitably engage ourselves with trying to redeem the less fortunate.
How? By genuinely and learnedly seeking out the many tributaries to language “sickness” beyond the pale of narrow thinking and nursing the ill to good health. That calls for our best character.
Do we really take account of our own peculiar Creole language context and cater for the overcoming of that “baggage”?
Have we really taught “grammar” in a way that it can be assuredly transferred to actual writing and speaking?
Have we been thoughtful enough about the relationship between language input and language output?
Do we really teach and seriously practise charges in a variety of powerful error avoidance or error correction strategies?
Or do we who find ourselves capable simply say – like many a genius who is a bad leader of failing men – that they should know what to do? Are we, the capable, bad leaders of men?
Our failure to nurture communication as vital, vibrant, personal, powerful, to-be-treasured, actual connectivity and to truly gather up the resources founded in authentic audience is probably somewhere near the root of people’s difficulties too.
Look, it isn’t that either Jesus or I – how the two o’ dem fellows get in the same sentence? – can’t wait to excuse faults.
I think He was focused on redemption. Against my strongest tendencies, I sometimes try to do the same.
I believe Jesus understood more about the complexity of “sin” than the crusading moralists (you en see that whole long piece ’bout “It has been said that . . . . But I say unto you” – in which he explored the unthought-of breadth and depth of murder and adultery and anger and contempt and other things that the moralists/legalists thought they had complete understanding of). The under-informed are so frequently the dogmatic.
But you will find that Dennis Craig, Mervin Alleyne, Velma Pollard, Peter Roberts, Hazel Simmons-McDonald, Beverley Bryan and other Caribbean linguists have less Pharisaical attitudes to the language “errors” of Caribbean people.
I am not saying that we should let language errors run riot. And I am not saying that such mistakes are never the result of carelessness or lack of knowledge.
I know these are often in the mix.
But I know, too, that language lapses can have origins way, way beyond these simple sources. And you should know this as well: disparagement, derision, broadcasting and beating down are more self-indulgent than redemptive.
When we feel (or even know) that we are on the upside of other people’s language misses, we should not behave like bad men with good ideas.
 
• Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor.

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