The role of eloquence to nudge the world

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One gropes, one claws, one prays for eloquence.

For some of us, words are all we know, our only tool for taking the measure of an often beautiful, often miserable world.

How impotent they seem in the presence of awe.

A sunrise in the Rockies, for instance.

Or a concert of full-throated preschoolers.

Or the murders of scores of unsuspecting innocent, happy people.

But words are not totally without value. In Tom Stoppard’s play “The Real Thing,” a character who is a playwright declares words to have a sacred power. “If you get the right ones in the right order,” the playwright says, “you can nudge the world a little …”

When they are all one has, one hopes.

But to nudge the world toward what? An appreciation of our shared humanity? An aversion to declarations of religious or social convictions through public displays of horror, hatred and suicide? Coping skills? Safety skills? Stricter gun laws? A well-trained citizenry armed to the teeth in preparation for the violently misguided? Compassion for victims? Compassion for each other? Compassion for the sick brutes of the world? Some sort of greater understanding that will make sense of the senseless?

All these things and more must be on the table, I suppose. They all play into media coverage of events that cannot be compacted into the logical framework of a coherent world view. We tell you what we can learn of how events unfolded and who was affected. We give you the names — in our case on the front page — and eventually the pictures and miniature profilesof the slain, so that you can know they were people, not mere digits in the ghastly, mounting arithmetic of mass murder in the 21st Century.

We let you vent, here on the Opinion page in our letters column. We let prominent social thinkers examine all the questions from every angle.

And we try to remind you of perspective — as in this comment from comedian John Oliver on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight”:

“For right now, on a day when some (expletive) terrorist wants us to focus on one man’s act of brutality and hatred, it might be worth seeing this video which was posted to Twitter today. It shows hundreds and hundreds of people this morning lining up around the block in Florida waiting to donate blood and it kind of reminds you that that terrorist (expletive) is vastly outnumbered.”

We trust it all helps.

Perhaps somewhere among all of these torrents of expressions, eloquence will have a role and the world will be nudged in the right direction.

Though we must not forget that it is the nudging and not the words that matters.

Jim Slusher, [email protected], is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Facebook at and on Twitter at @JimSlusher.