While Gerrod was off gallivanting around Washington, D.C. I was attending in an awesome lecture on “the use of language in war and peace”. It was the first instalment of the Secretary-General’s lecture series that I’ve attended and it was sooo interesting!
The two expert speakers were Professor Chinua Achebe, an incredibly accomplished 75-year-old Nigerian novelist with honorary degrees from over 30 universities, and Professor Paul Muldoon, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet from Northern Ireland.
Some of Professor Achebe’s best insights were:
- The origin of language is to explain the world around us and to explain us to the world. We must stay true to this.
- The integrity of language is constantly under threat: lies are free and easy to tell. To deceive is to destroy the integrity of words and to lesson their power.
- We should be wary of word play that lessens the meaning of words. Here, Prof. Muldoon added a not-so-professorial insight: “for instance, how can we accept Starbucks calling their smallest drink a ‘tall’?”
- The ability of language to mediate in human conflicts depends on our ability to trust what we hear.
In short: say less. Mean more.