Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Eloquence of Character

He (Custennin) was a king ever mindful of the respect of his people and sought to win it daily. - Merlin, Stephen R Lawhead      

As I have often written here, words properly chosen, ordered, and timed, are a necessary component of effective communication, especially in regard to leadership. (Here, here, here, here, and here.) It’s more than words, however, but also how the words are expressed: the tonality and spirit behind the words. As Lawhead wrote of Merlin’s voice:

It was his (Merlin’s) voice that fascinated me. Infinitely expressive, it served him in any manner he wished. When he lashed, it could raise welts on a stone. When he soothed, it could have shamed nightingales into silence. And when he commanded, mountains and valleys exchanged places. “Arthur,” Stephen R Lawhead

Wilson: Crikey, Lord. I want that gift!

Question: Had Merlin been a man of low character, a man whose spirit was muddied and tarnished, what would be the effect of his words, then?

A Man of Impeccable Character
Back in the 70s, I heard a man speaking who was raising money for a mission in South America. He couldn’t put a cogent sentence together, his grammar was atrocious, and his voice grating. The astounding thing, for me, was watching the audience. People were captivated and moved to give far more than his target amount. (I knew the host and asked him how much was raised.)

It took me a few days to process what I had witnessed. Gradually, it dawned on me that it was his authenticity and, even more critically, the respect he commanded. In speaking with the host, I found out that he stayed in constant contact with his donors as to how the money was being spent and the results being achieved … or not. Yes, if it was “bad news,” he let them know.

But it was even more than this. He had a reputation for impeccable integrity.

If he made a promise, he kept it.

He was over-the-top conscientious with the money that was donated.

In listening to others speak of him the description that came up most often was “Respectful toward others.”

While he was not eloquent, his “Yes” was “Yes” and his “No” was “No.” “He never exaggerates”; “he never equivocates.”

We all know people whose skills we respect, while not feeling the same way about their character. While this tension between the two exists for us, it doesn’t always lead to a breach in the relationship. Yet, the reality is that the tension causes us to keep a bit of distance. And when conflict arises? When we are in a situation where their words matter? We have our doubts. Or worse.

What I learned from this missionary was that character has its own efficaciousness and eloquence.

St. Luke wrote that sinners heard Jesus “gladly.” Why? Certainly he was eloquent. However, it was his character that opened their hearts to his words, as it did with this “ineloquent” gentleman.  

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2018

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