Thoughtless Exaggeration

Advice on speech.

S.A. Wellman

The best of the young people in this conference assembled in _______ this week." This statement recently appeared in a union confer­ence paper, It referred to one class of youth in the conference. If correct, it certainly re­flected disparagingly on all the other young people in the conference who had not chosen, or could not, through lack of personal adapta­tion or circumstances, engage in the same line of endeavor. As it caught the eye of the writer, it brought before him a flood of memories con­cerning similar exaggerated statements made in pulpit or press, none of which could be sub­stantiated by facts.

That any one group of young people, regard­less of their line of endeavor, could be exclu­sively the best, is contrary to reason. And who, after all, is to be judge of who are best, who stand highest, who are the outstanding indi­viduals in intellectuality, loyalty, service, hard labor, sacrifice, or some other measure of ex­cellence? It is a reckless use of English as well as showing a lack of good judgment for a writer or speaker to single out any class or individual. Judged by the standard of the word of God, he only is best who has reached the perfection of the Master, and He would not permit even His own disciples to speak of Him as "good."

The entire expression quoted at the outset savors too much of the tendency to exaggerate the little accomplishments of human life as the "greatest." So often we hear of the greatest bridge in the world, the highest building in the country, the most perfect machine ever made, the greatest general who ever led an army; yet the next minute my neighbor may challenge the statement to my face and, to my chagrin, prove his contention with recognized facts. There is altogether too much of this tendency to exaggerate in our everyday speech and writ­ing. But when that tendency expresses itself in the contrasting of one group with another, or of the operation of one department of God's cause with another, it becomes not only a care­less and harmful habit, but an overt transgres­sion of the law of kindness and courtesy.

Were one to say, "some of the best," or "some of the finest," "a few of the bright young people of our church," "some of our consecrated youth," or "a group of our loyal members," that would be true, for undoubtedly they deserve commen­dation for faithfulness in their relation to God's cause. But let us never single out any group or class or particular activity, and label it as the best, the most outstanding, the brightest, or what not. It is poor form, and poorer Chris­tian courtesy.

Whether one or many engage in the cause of God in a particular line of service, theirs is a high privilege which has, in service well ren­dered, a priceless reward. Let us recognize that service, pray for the servant, say a word of ap­preciation but not of adulation, and seek to emu­late the ideals which we admire or commend. In the work of God there are ministers, elders, deacons, Sabbath school leaders and teachers, Missionary Volunteer leaders, colporteurs, lay­men, missionaries, children in service, and many other classes, all seeking to bear a faith­ful part in God's work. No one is best, and who shall say as to which in the sight of God stands highest. It was a little child Christ set in the midst of the disciples to teach them the highest service; it was the publican, not the Pharisee, who went down to his house justified; it was the widow with the two mites whom Christ commended.

Let us then in our reports, in our speeches, in writing articles for our papers, or in introducing speakers, seek so to choose our words that none, not even the one mentioned, shall be embar­rassed or lifted up, and the one unmentioned shall not feel slighted by the overprofuse ex­aggeration employed to describe the work or person of the object of our speech.

Washington, D. C.

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S.A. Wellman

November 1933

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