by Rev. Robert H. Tucker
May 27, 1997
Just Answer the Question, Please!
Yesterday, Memorial Day, I was watching Washington Journal
on C-Span. A faxed-in question asked why, on this day, both of
the invited editors expressed disdain for the military and neither
one was an American citizen. The host resorted to 'bureaucrat-ese.'
Instead of answering the question, he mentioned how C-Span later
would be televising wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
(I define 'bureaucrat-ese' as language-obfuscation, in this case
answering a question not asked. Not surprisingly, the Latin root
of obfuscation is "to darken.")
The TV host's response made me realize why conversations with
political, corporate and church leaders are so frustrating, and
so futile. Leaders frequently tend not to listen, and by not listening,
they fail to treat questioners seriously. By not listening, leaders
are able to sidestep issues of policy and prejudice and to avoid
the questioner's concern, anger or pain--legitimate or not.
Similar in substance, if different in style, are those traveling
scholars who, following their speeches, entertain questions. The
questions that get taken seriously are those for which the speaker
already has a well-developed answer. The verbal clues to such
a response are the speaker's satisfied smile followed by the words,
"Now, that's a good question."
Too slow in recognizing 'bureaucrat-ese,' it is usually the
lingering frustration or anger--subtle as it may be--clinging
to the edge of my mind that wakes me up to the fact that I have
been conned. Straight-forward disagreement is more tolerable than
verbal dismissal. Disagreement at least means that two people
have connected with each other.
The Biblical writer James looks on the tongue as an evil power
that can set an entire life on fire "with flames that come
from hell itself." Wow, I didn't know they had 'bureaucrat-ese'
in the first century!
--Robert H. Tucker
27 May 1997
- © Robert H. Tucker, 1997.
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