Monday, December 2, 2013

Mainline Academese and the Language that Transforms

After something of a hiatus, I'm back into my doctoral program, which got stalled out this last year for a range of reasons.  The writing project that was to be the book-length output of my D.Min. was so fundamentally changed as it ground through the proposal approval process that it ceased to be interesting or innovative, which doesn't exactly help motivate a body to get it done.

The large independent study project I'd hoped would give me my last six credit hours pranged off of professors who were simply too busy to take on the reading.   The two elective courses I'd signed up for to replace them were both cancelled.

But when life hands you lemons, you make life take the lemons back, as Cave Johnson elegantly put it.   So I've managed to remotivate on the project writing for next year, and found two courses that are 1) interesting enough to actually qualify as electives and 2) not cancelled.

My reading for the first of the courses began last night, as I worked my way through much of a book on narrative therapy and pastoral counseling.  It's actually rather useful stuff, and I find the therapeutic model it presents to be promising both interpersonally and spiritually.  We are creatures of story, we human beings, and understanding how we can change our own narratives about ourselves and our relationships is key to healing our wounds and transforming our lives.

So far, the book talks about the need for the "guiding professional" to empower individuals and couples, giving them the tools they need to understand and reclaim their own stories.  Meaning, when you and the missus have lost track of why in the hell you got together in the first place, there are ways you can get that back.  Or get back something better and more resilient.  Which is an excellent thing to know, and to know how to do.  Useful, in a healing sort of way.

What I've found myself noticing, though, is the language.  It's written by a Presbyterian pastor, a professor of pastoral counseling, and the language and structure of the book is…well…academic.  In fact, it's ragingly, blazingly, relentlessly academic.  It speaks in the strange and stilted tongue of leftist academe, which has two unfortunate side effects.

First, the shadow side of writing for a "professional" audience comes when the things you are teaching really *could* be accessible to everyone.  Because as I read, I keep thinking, you know, this stuff isn't nearly as complex as the language being used to convey it.  There's no reason that it needs to be written this way.

In fact, it seems oddly ironic that it is written as it is written.  If your whole model for healing the broken soul of a relationship is "empowering" people, then writing a book that a pastor can't share with couples who are struggling seems peculiar.

Sure, it's good for me to have the tools.  But it's equally important for me to be able to teach those tools to those who come to me with their pain.  And unlike books written by evangelicals and the self-help folks, this one just can't be shared.

Second, I know that this language cannot become my operating language.  The more deeply we steep ourselves in language that is not broadly accessible, the more that becomes the way we think.  And when we think using terms that limit our ability to broadly convey concepts, we start losing the ability to get our message across.  

When you've got good news to share, when there's real healing potential in it, that can be a wee bit of a problem.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, David. This is the first one of your blog entries that I've read, and I plan to continue to read them. I enjoy your writing. The language is accessible, fluid,and interesting! This entry was of particular interest to me, being that I am in English professor and am familiar with the academic language you're referring to. I find this type of language not only elitist, but maddening sometimes. And the part that stinks for me is that if I want to be published in any of the academic journals that I read, it's expected that I will write in this elitist, academic tone that really isn't me. For anyone in academics to be taken seriously, it seems, he/she must use this language. I like your comment that the more exposed to this kind of inaccessible language we are, the more we'll begin to think in these terms, leading us to become inaccessible ourselves. Brilliant insight! Good luck with the book (the one you're reading and the one you're writing)!

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