Month: April 2017

Topics Rather Than People

While reading a biography of John Adams, I recently came across a phrase describing an attitude that I believe would do us a lot of good in our daily life. Abigail Adams’ father was a Harvard graduate and a minister. He taught his children how to conduct themselves, including the phrase, “Make topics rather than people the subject” of your speech. That is obviously good advice for preachers’ kids, but for all of us. That one phrase struck me as such a simple and profound concept that it caught my attention.

How much of our political and religious debate either includes or even centers on personal attacks and diminution of another person or people? The volume of such encounters seems to have increased in recent years, but is certainly not new. Newspapers, pamphlets and speeches have always contained personal references to people rather than their ideas or beliefs. Those made fun of personal appearance, ways of walking and speech patterns. Yet in more honorable times, the content of the speech took precedence over any distractions about a person. Not so lately.

I have quoted others who I believed had valid ideas and observances only to have an attack on the person quoted as the first reply. The value of the quote (either to agree or disagree) was never mentioned, but only the person making the original statement. This left the point unanswered, and seemed to be an inability to respond to its validity. This is unfortunately all too common, and is even a strategy (if unconsciously) of those who are willing to engage in debate. In the process, the back-and-forth breaks down and no longer a legitimate discussion of differences based on topics but a series of derogatory claims designed to harm the personal reputation of a person or people.

I need the “Make topics rather than people” concept as a reminder. It is not too late to elevate a healthy discussion to a respectable level. I will fight the urge to make things personal, and recognize a good point when I hear or read it, even if I disagree with most or all the rest of a person’s beliefs.

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Honor to Whom It is Due

One thing we need to recognize and never let go of, is honor. Sometimes we overuse the word “hero”, maybe because we need them so much, to the point we call anyone who does anything out of an ordinary day a hero. This tends to inflate the term to the point that it is not really special anymore. It is important for us to realize how grateful we should be to those who have done extraordinary things on behalf of other people to truly rise to the rank of hero.

People who do good and valuable things each day to help individuals should be regarded with honor for those things. Not necessarily a parade, but a certain respect for the glue they provide in holding together families, churches and communities. In fact, most of them would be uncomfortable with parades because they were raised and bred to help. They know their forebears have handed down to them a cause larger than themselves. They are wired to be of value, simply because that is what we do. The parts of the whole need glue to hold it together, and they are more than willing to do that task.

I see those individuals everywhere who stick through thick and thin. They are people you will not notice until they are absent. Something is amiss and someone else must step in or things will go wrong. They do not expect anything, but there is something we can do for them and for us all, show them honor. By doing so, we remain faithful to them and their like who provide the continuity for us to pass down good and permanent things to our children and their children.