Saturday, August 06, 2011

Word Smart and Smart Words

It was June 29, 2007 when my first column showed up in the pages of The Hutchinson News. I didn’t miss a deadline for the next year and a half. Since then I have failed to hand in a column 8 times. This means I have a batting average of .926 and I would like to point out this was accomplished with absolutely no performance enhancing drugs of any kind.

The column you are reading right now is my 100th for this newspaper and the 235th of my newspaper “career”. That adds up to more than 183,000 words (which is less impressive when you take into account I used some of the words more than once). Obviously this is something I enjoy doing otherwise why would I do it so much. Wait a minute, that logic is flawed. I do things I absolutely abhor much more frequently.

The chief motivation behind this endeavor is to make people smile. If I can make someone laugh out loud that is a huge bonus. Since I cannot be in the room when most people read my work (after the first two restraining orders it loses its allure) I don’t know if there is any auditory laughing. I like to imagine it happens and pathetically I often sit in my office and do just that.

There have been times I wanted to get a message out there. Humor is a great way to stealthily guide people to truth without bludgeoning the audience. If you spend your time yelling and ranting to deliver your message it is not all that likely someone who does not agree with you in the first place will come over to your way of thinking. However, it seems yelling and ranting at people who already believe exactly the same as you do can get you a whole lot of television exposure and enough money to make it even more likely you’d hate the idea of taxing the rich.

As I get older I thought I was supposed to get more mellow. Not so much. All this recent stuff with Congress has made me so angry I have to find something to laugh at in order not to scream bad words into the wind, drop kick the cat into the next county or do something truly nuts like run for office. Even if reading this column has never been remotely cathartic for you writing it has frequently been so for me.

I firmly believe that genuinely funny people are genuinely smart people (this postulate is likely proven by watching C-SPAN broadcast from the floor of Congress, not exactly a laughter machine). The process of “finding the funny” is one of my favorite things to do and those exercises have helped me hone many other skills that enhance my intellectual powers. Please don’t think I am placing myself in some sort of Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Mr. Peabody echelon of intelligence. I don’t even want that kind of brain.

I believe that words are the building blocks of every idea. Be the ideas brilliant, humorous, or even weapons grade stupid, words are how we convey the grand majority of these ideas and funny people usually have the greatest facility with the language. Or is it the other way around? People with the greatest facility with the language are funny. (That is a circular question similar to who crossed the road first the chicken or the egg.) Therefore, the better I get at finding the funny the better I get with words and making connections with other words and the not necessarily intended by-product of all that is becoming smarter. I think…

Just the other day in one of my a-whole-bunch-of-educators-get-together-to-talk-about-education meetings (how’s that for a facility with the language?) the following were listed as 21st century skills: critical thinking, communication skills and collaboration. In my own mind I thought, whoa, those have been some of the most useful skills since people started doing things other than sitting in caves worrying about mastodons. Those were skills very much in the forefront of the late 18th century when the powdered wig guys wrote such things as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. So, the next thing I thought was maybe we stopped teaching those things in the 20th century and that is why way too many people (especially the elected ones) cannot use them when deciding how best to take care of the people who live in our country today, and I mean all of the people who live here.