Words can be turned into a charismatic river of deceit that quickly reaches flood stage with its manipulation. Here are a few bricks of critical thinking and discernment to help build a flood wall to contain that tide.
The integrity of the speaker is the most important thing to evaluate and gauge. Thomas Sowell pulls no punches when he leads off Listening to a Liar by saying:
The most important thing about what anyone says are not the words themselves but the credibility of the person who says them….
Words can be used for good and for evil—to benefit the listeners or to empower the speaker. The character of the speaker is our best clue to his intent.
The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.Luke 6:45
Character is the proof of words. Who is he? What does his life and his acts tell us ? What does he think of himself? What does he think of his audience?
Critique the substance of his words. Sort between how he speaks and what he speaks. What does he presume to be true? Are those things true? Does he build his case on its merits? Are those merits accurate? What are his conclusions? Do they make sense? What would be their effect? What is the purpose of his words? Does he speak to build up or speak to tear down?
The first to plead his case seems right,Until another comes and examines him.Proverbs 18:7
Look at a speaker’s style. Is he straightforward and clear? In Politics and the English Language, George Orwell wrote:
The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.
Look at his style in the light of Dov Seidman’s words that I quoted in Leadership. Is he working to inspire others to be propelled by values and principles to do the right things no matter how difficult the situation? Does he incite or reason?
A worthless man digs up evil,While his words are like scorching fire.A perverse man spreads strife,And a slanderer separates intimate friends.A man of violence entices his neighborAnd leads him in a way that is not good.Proverbs 16:27–29
Finally, consider his setting. Why was it chosen? What kind of message about the speaker do the location, background and decorations send to the audience?
“Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write,” to understand what is upstream from our culture and our politics. Being able to clearly evaluate what we hear and read is a vital part of the process. In the side bar you’ll find a resource list titled, Propaganda & Reason. I’ll be building it and going into further detail on propaganda techniques in future posts.
He who speaks truth tells what is right,But a false witness, deceit.There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword,But the tongue of the wise brings healing.Truthful lips will be established forever,But a lying tongue is only for a moment.Proverbs 12:17–19
Benjamin Franklin quote from Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1735.