Father Eugene Hemrick

After making a giant step forward in modern communications, have we also taken two steps backward?

Thanks to the internet, people are communicating with each other in wonderful ways. For example, shut-ins once disconnected from society are able to stay connected with friends, and we now have all sorts of libraries at our fingertips.

The world of communications is bursting with giant leaps forward, but is the manner in which we communicate as balanced as it should be?

To determine this requires consulting with the wisdom of the ages.

Statesman, orator, philosopher and lawyer Cicero once wrote that, among other things, success depends on speaking eloquently.


To determine how balanced today’s rhetoric is, let’s look at some synonyms for “eloquence” — the words “moving,” “fluent,” “articulate” and “well-expressed.”

The synonym “moving” leads us to ask in what direction is our rhetoric moving us. Is it increasing feelings of hostility and indignity? Has it improved courtesy and civility, or generated vulgarity and bad manners?

No doubt our rhetoric is fluent and articulate, but is it increasing our charity and understanding of each other? Is it inspiring camaraderie, or is it causing harmful divisions?

In a lecture by literature scholar Helen C. White, she points to the potential of words: “They are symbols, and yet they have, also, their own history of associations and meanings, and their own capacities of suggestion and of evocation, their own possibilities of pattern-making and of music, heard and unheard — in short, their own mysterious dynamic, reaching backward and forward with their ministry to ear and mind.”

Here we might ask how much music we hear and see in our world of words. Do they lift us into the intriguing inner worlds within our world or is chaotic speech submerging them in mud?

In his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul speaks of carefully crafting the morality of words:

“No foul language should come out of your mouths,” he writes, “but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear. … Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.”

Thanks to Cicero, Helen White and St. Paul, we are blessed with sage principles needed for judging the balance of today’s rhetoric.