On endings, beginnings and calling things by their right names

By Jill Segger
January 12, 2017

TS Eliot is the poet of endings and beginnings and of the paradoxes which dwell within that cycle.

These words from Little Gidding seem particularly worthy of consideration as we enter a time of considerable and – let it be said – disturbing change:

For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.

What that voice may be is a question for every one of us. Will we respond to bigotry and xenophobia with an aggression which undermines what it should promote and devalues the quality of opposition? How will we react to the frequently intemperate and ill-informed world of social media? How ready are we to accept the moral short-cuts which are increasingly becoming the currency of 140-character rants?

Behind such questions looms the pernicious delusion that we now live in a 'post-truth' age. 'Another voice' must learn to call manifestations of this shameless piece of laziness what they are – lies. And of course, power has always lied. There is nothing new about that. But by acquiescing in this definition with its slightly pretentious tone (remember 'the end of history'?) we make ourselves passive recipients of both deceit and an abandoning of the redemptive, transformative quality of being ashamed.

In the same manner, 'fake news' must be named, without fear, as propaganda. Apart from its increasing tendency to mean whatever Donald Trump finds inconvenient, it will be a deep shame on all free societies if we permit the concept to generate cynicism in place of sceptical enquiry and discernment. If we poison the wells of even the possibility of journalistic integrity, we will have neither defence against tyranny nor aspiration to freedom with justice. Those of us who work in the media must redouble our efforts to be publishers of truth, to research, to verify, to check and check again and above all, to resist the lemming-rush to responses which value speed above discernment.

Last year's words may belong to last year's language, but do the emotional worlds of Shakespeare and Milton no longer communicate with that which has depth and worth in our spirits? Let us never confuse register with truth because, as a Chinese proverb reminds us, “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names”. This is surely how we may “arrive where we started /And know the place for the first time.”

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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.co/quakerpen

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