The Art of Plain Speech

by | 2 Mar, 2021 | 2103 March 2021

David Evans,  South Australia and Northern Territory Regional Meeting

I love listening to whoever in the wider world says Quakerly things. Triple champion international debater Julia Dhar in her TED talk[i]  How to disagree productively and find common ground, is  inspiring in this regard.  Julia says it starts with finding common ground; separating ideas from identity; engaging directly and respectfully face to face; and being genuinely open to persuasion. The common ground is where you agree, spoken in plain speech; speech that everybody understands. From the common ground one can proceed to different pathways exploring the options. Being genuinely open to persuasion reflects we have a lot to learn – in whatever is the issue at hand. Being ready to debate, not knowing which side of the argument you will be representing also promotes opening the mind. Starting with Jargon terms is like preaching to the converted, prejudicing outcomes. However we do need Professional Jargon. Let’s say you mention Artificial Intelligence (AI). Those who have worked with it perhaps understand better than most. Those who have heard of it might think talking about AI shows you are “with it”. Some can see the results without pretending to understand. Those who have no knowledge can only guess. And for all there is still so much in the future yet to be discovered.

Julia Dhar

My real difficulty is Religious Jargon, talking with those who “know” about their religion. Exhortations may initiate conversation as you are invited to join with them in a “spiritual” encounter.  The common ground has not been agreed. References to “Christian” and “being saved”, and even “God”, are fraught with difficulty in relationships. Our first Advice is illuminating.

Take heed, dear Friends, to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts. Trust them as the leadings of God whose Light shows us our darkness and brings us to new life.

The challenge is to express the reality simply, perhaps; “I had a strong feeling I should come and see you”; or, “a little dickie bird told me to come”; or, “it felt like a body blow that I had to make a change”. It is my concept of a spiritual aspect of everybody’s life. “God whose Light” in the Advice might be a problem to some Quakers, and is perhaps best avoided in general conversation. The problem is socialising positively with those who use these phrases in their everyday manner of speaking. My own policy is to go along as far as I can, even, as has happened recently when my friend says, “Shall we pray”, or, “Can we say grace?” I feel the aim is to co-operate as far as possible in the positive aspects of the social encounter. Deep Silence is an in-house Quaker term. It is wonderful to experience. Perhaps too personal to describe. But we feel at one with other people in a spiritual sense; and are left wondering. It also happens in the wider world. One example is in music concerts where you could “hear a pin drop” and the audience is so enthralled they are late to applaud. Continuing silence, or, a sharing glance may be the plainest speech. [i]
Share This