Roger Barbee, my turn: Choose words carefully because rhetoric matters

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 5, 2022

Words matter, and that is why advertisers, lawyers, religious leaders and politicians usually are careful of their chosen words. The words used can convince a consumer to make a purchase, persuade a jury of peers, encourage a congregation to work at being better individuals, or believe a particular way.

A skilled writer can use chosen words to sway a reader or listener to a new way of thinking. Words matter because they move their audience, and elected leaders are masters at using words to do that. Patrick Henry’s words “Give me liberty or give me death” not only moved a state government in 1775, but they are also still used today to inspire. However, the speech he gave that day should be read for more than those oft-quoted words. In arguing for a state militia he says to his opponents in the Second Virginia Convention, “But different men often see the same subject in different lights,” which is a powerful but eloquent way of saying, “I don’t agree with you.”

Henry is one of our Founding Fathers who used his words to argue for what he saw as the best path in building a nation — from scratch. He and all the other Founding Fathers (and Mothers such as Mrs. Adams) had various views, but they used rhetoric to help form our great democracy. Yet all their building was done in years of turmoil, but they came to compromise through words of persuasion, not vulgar ones of violence. Our current political climate, while rife with disagreements like that of the Founders, is full of vulgar and violent rhetoric. Now, instead of persuading words, we have bombast and worse.

Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Democrat from Arizona wrote these words on Tweeter to express his disagreement with a senator: “F*** you @tedcruz you care about a fetus but you will let our children get slaughtered. Just get your a** to Cancun. You are useless.”

The lieutenant governor of North Carolina, Mark Robinson, explained his opinion on guns this way: “I got them AR-15s in case the government gets too big for his britches because I’m going to fill the backside of them britches with some lead. I’m going to say it to you plain. Your boy ain’t going down without, he isn’t going down without swinging.”

Words should accomplish something, but Gallego’s public vulgarity only offend and disappoint. They do not show disagreement but attack in a vile fashion. They are shameful.

While Robinson does not use the vulgarity of Gallego, his words express a false bravado in a phony down-home manner that he hopes will appeal to a base populous. His words are a good example of condoning violence without using violent language. They, too, are shameful.

While few of us can speak like Patrick Henry and other great people, we all should aspire to. We should all strive to use words that persuade and motivate. We should express our disagreement with policies and beliefs in carefully chosen words and not attack. We should seek discourse not discord. All of this is an expectation for any citizen. However, a greater expectation is hoped for from community and national leaders. Because of their position, certain people like teachers, clergy and elected officials need to set an example of excellence not one of ugly filth.

My mother used many country sayings to teach us children lessons. One of her favorites was, “You can catch more flies with sugar than vinegar.” While some of her sayings were more difficult to understand and apply to daily life on the mill-hill, all us children understood what our mother was teaching us by this one.

President Obama told us that we can disagree without being disagreeable. He and my mother speak a truth that we all need to follow.

Roger Barbee lives in Mooresville. Contact him at