Brace for Impact
If I only had one word with which to describe Dr. deRosset, I would choose “precise”. There are, of course, many other adjectives that describe her – intelligent, respected, godly, opinionated, witty, energetic – but over all she is a precise woman. She chooses each of her words carefully, taking care to omit any that don’t deliver exactly the meaning she wants to convey. In the first semester that I studied at Moody Bible Institute, her class on College Writing was without a doubt my favorite, because for one hour every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoon she would sit at her desk and do her best to instill in us an abiding passion for the intricacies of language and expression that she loves so much.
Dr. deRosset makes her love for the art of storytelling and for the adept use of the English language unmistakably clear in every one of her lectures. You can hear the affection in her voice when she talks about her favorite short stories and turns of phrase and what makes them so enduring and so enthralling. There is, however, another side to Dr. deRosset. She is the type of woman who could be two feet tall and still have the most commanding presence in any room. She forms her opinions carefully, defends them fiercely, and demands that her students learn to do the same, and she brings that same fierceness to bear in defense of precise expression.
You see, with Dr. deRosset, it’s not enough to express yourself precisely, concisely, and deftly in academic writing and formal correspondence. She insists that to truly master the art of self-expression, you have to practice it meticulously in every word you speak, every status update, every email, every tweet. If you want your words to have any real weight, she argues, you have to know them intimately and select them with the utmost care.
Dr. deRosset has two words that she almost always uses to illustrate why precision matters so much to her, and why she believes it ought to matter to the rest of us: “share” and “impact”. We use these words for everything now, it seems. Facebook urges us to hit the “share” button and let everyone know what’s on our minds, and sentences like “I want to share a story with you that really impacted me,” are commonplace. The trouble, Dr. deRosset laments, is that we’re using those words to say something that they don’t mean in the place of words that would be infinitely more meaningful.
Take “share”, for example. If you’re sharing something with someone, the understanding is that you have something that they want or need and you are offering some or all of it to them. How many of the things that we “share” online (or in real life, for that matter) are things that the recipients really want or need to know? How often could our “sharing” be more accurately described as “mentioning”, or even “foisting upon”?
Then there’s “impact”. Dr. deRosset drives the real meaning of the word into students’ heads with her mantra, “bowels and teeth” – if you’re not describing a trip to the hospital because your bowels are impacted or a forceful blow, like being punched in the teeth, then you’re not using “impact” correctly. Something might change your mindset, affect your life, or alter your perspective, but unless it crashed bodily into you, you were most definitely not impacted.
A lot of people see this approach as a bit too picky. After all, our society has leant new meanings to words like “share”, “impact”, “awesome”, and “epic” simply by popular acceptance, so why shouldn’t we use them that way? It’s not as if people won’t understand what you’re saying. That, however, is not the issue. The issue is that there are better words, more meaningful words, that you could be using instead if you just made the effort to find them. “Impact” is the easy way out, but it’s bland and impotent. It leaves your sentences lifeless, colorless, and expressionless, just the same thing that everyone else always says said the same way that everyone else always says it.
In the end, Dr. deRosset really teaches her students about laziness and discipline, and the tricky thing about those two is that you can’t compartmentalize them. If you’re lazy in your expression, that laziness will ease its way into the rest of your life. On the other hand, if you’re diligent in your writing, you’re practicing the same skills that you need in order to be diligent in your studies or your work or your relationships. So my real challenge to you tonight is not just to quit abusing “impact” and “awesome” (although if you do choose to take on that noble task, I give you my heartfelt thanks – and a quick warning: you will suddenly notice every single time someone misuses those words and it will make you cringe, so brace yourself). More than that, I’m asking you to step back, take a look at the way you communicate with others, and use it as an opportunity to become both a more articulate and a more disciplined person.