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An Effort To Understand: Hearing One Another (and Ourselves) in a Nation Cracked in Half

An Effort To Understand: Hearing One Another (and Ourselves) in a Nation Cracked in Half

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An Effort To Understand: Hearing One Another (and Ourselves) in a Nation Cracked in Half

255 pagine
3 ore
Feb 23, 2021


What we say, what we don't, and why it matters.

This new collection of essays from rhetoric authority and celebrated writing blogger David Murray applies his signature blend of humor and heart to a free-wheeling conversation about how we communicate in America.

With essays like "We Deserve Leaders Who Act Like They Like Us," and "Speaking Truth to Power: Talking to Myself," Murray's words give readers a window into everyday American discourse—from the backroads of rural Illinois to the carpeted halls of the C-suite.

Guided by an ear for the lessons of history, An Effort to Understand shows that the personal and political gulfs between us are small compared to our common desire to connect.

American discord is nothing new, but we have a chance at trust, peace, and solidarity if we make an effort to speak more honestly and listen to understand.

Feb 23, 2021

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An Effort To Understand - David Murray




Iwas raised to be a communicator. My parents were both writers by trade—my mother an advertising copywriter and literary novelist, my father an advertising creative director and an essayist. Even with the commercials they made, they wanted to reach across the divides, racial and generational, of their time.

My mother wrote a newspaper ad in 1964. If you feel sure civil rights is moving fast enough, began the headline over a grainy black-and-white photograph of a racially ambiguous child in a crib, try to imagine your children waking up Negro tomorrow morning.

A few years later, my father articulated his communication philosophy in a memo whose terms are as dated as its title—The Man Inside the Man—but whose message holds:

All of us, as human beings, wear a protective cover or a kind of year-round Halloween mask to keep our nerve endings hidden, to keep our soft underside of hopes and needs and hang-ups, our fears, our pride and prejudices, our irrationalities and our cry buttons from hanging right out there in the sunlight for someone to push in or puncture. And it’s this paper-thin shell that confuses a lot of people in advertising. It’s this shell, when it comes in big sunglasses and long hair, that frightens a lot of us over thirty, and worse, fools us into thinking that it’s not just a shell at all, but a whole new and different kind of person in there. And if we hear the shell express some new idea or value—or speak or sing in some strange new language, we strain to hear what was said and try to play back our communication in the same way with the same words. We try, in other words, to communicate with the shell instead of the she or he inside.

He continued:

I can assure you from personal experience that today’s young people, however sober, serious, callous, arrogant, flip, or freaked out they might appear on the surface, still cry quietly in the bathroom when a pimple appears at prom time, or when they feel unloved or unsure (which they really do most of the time) or threatened or confused by some of the problems that confront them. I believe that honor and justice and truth and logic mean as much to them as to you and me—maybe more. I believe that beneath the shell, they are simply young people (and it’s important to pause between those two words, young and people, to fully grasp what they mean) who, in the main, respond logically to logic, lovingly to love, and honestly to truth.

My parents were hardly saints, and they could also use their words to say cutting and dismissive things. But generally, growing up in their house, the orientation emphasized the importance of grasping the other person’s perspective.

My parents’ favorite story was one my dad would tell. One morning on vacation in Florida, as he stood on the hotel balcony gazing at the ocean, my dad spotted a young boy walking down the beach alone.

Below my dad on another balcony, another boy, unseen, called out to the boy on the beach. Jake!

The boy on the beach looked over briefly, but kept walking.

Jake! the boy on the balcony repeated.

But the boy on the beach kept walking.

Jake! Jake! Jake! the boy below cried.

Finally, the boy on the beach stopped and turned squarely toward the hotel. He reared back and yelled, Can’t you see I’m some other kid?

I’m some other kid! I can still hear my dad repeating the line at the top of his lungs, over my mother’s roaring laughter.

The communication orientation I grew up with became more like a communication philosophy throughout the life I’ve lived. During a career spent among professional communicators—Chicago journalists, the oral historian Studs Terkel and several of the working-class poets he unleashed, elders of the public relations business, political speechwriters from around the world, and psychologists (including my younger sister)—I’ve come to see that communication is much more than words.

Communication is pretty much everything.

Boe Workman is one of my very best friends in the communication business and a speechwriter trained in classical rhetoric. He writes for the CEO of AARP, as he has for the previous three CEOs of that American institution over the past quarter century. Over cocktails once, Workman told me he had completed an ethical will—an essay that would tell his friends and his family someday what my life was all about. I asked him to share it with me—and after I read it, I begged him to let me share this part with you:

I am a firm believer in and practitioner of rhetorical perspective, having made its study and practice my chosen profession. As a writer, and especially as a speechwriter, I believe in the power of rhetoric to initiate and energize ideas, and in the principle of public discourse to illuminate, refine and resolve public issues.

And as Isocrates wrote in The Antidosis:

There is no institution devised by man which the power of speech has not helped us to establish. For this it is which has laid down laws concerning things just and unjust, and things honorable and base; and if it were not for these ordinances we should not be able to live with one another. It is by this also that we confute the bad and extol the good. Through this we educate the ignorant and appraise the wise; for the power to speak well is taken as the surest index of a sound understanding, and discourse which is true and lawful and just is the outward image of a good and faithful soul…. [W]e shall find that none of the things that are done with intelligence take place without the help of speech, but that in all our actions as well as in all our thoughts speech is our guide, and it is most employed by those who have the most wisdom.

My Aristotelian belief is that what makes a man a sophist is not his skill, but his moral purpose, and that in the long run (sometimes a very long run), the worse cannot be made to appear the better reason.

Perhaps that long run has never seemed longer than it does today. But history, too, is long—especially when you start with Aristotle. And human communication is a moral purpose, especially when you do it with more than words.

When you try to do it with your life

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