Austin Kern | Midterm | Elang 325 Introduction Elder Jeffrey R. Holland is one of my favorite instructors of religion, so I decided to analyze two stylistically dissimilar paragraphs from his General Conference address, “Like a Broken Vessel,” to see if they match his purpose of speaking with compassion for those who suffer. He began his address by saying "[The apostle Peter] wrote that disciples of Jesus Christ are to have 'compassion one of another.' In that Spirit I wish to speak." Paragraph #1 "...I have seen it in young fathers trying to provide for their families. In that regard I once terrifyingly saw it in myself. At one point in our married life when financial fears collided with staggering fatigue, I took a psychic blow that was as unanticipated as it was real. With the grace of God and the love of my family, I kept functioning and kept working, but even after all these years I continue to feel a deep sympathy for others more chronically or more deeply afflicted with such gloom than I was. In any case we have all taken courage from those who, in the words of the Prophet Joseph, 'search[ed] ... and contemplate[d] the darkest abyss' and persevered through it -- not the least of whom were Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchhill, and Elder George Albert Smith, the latter being one of the most gentle and Christlike men of our dispensation, who battled recurring depression for some years before later becoming the universally beloved eighth prophet and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." Paragraph #2 "So how do you best respond when mental or emotional challenges confront you or those you love? Above all, never lose faith in your Father in Heaven, who loves you more than you can comprehend. As President Monson said to the Relief Society sisters so movingly last Saturday evening: 'That love never changes. ... It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful. God's love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve [it]. It is simply always there.' Never ever doubt that, and never harden your heart. Faithfully pursue the time-tested devotional practices that bring the Spirit of the Lord into your life. Seek the counsel of those who hold keys for your spiritual well-being. Ask for and cherish priesthood blessings. Take the sacrament every week, and hold fast to the perfecting promises of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Believe in miracles. I have seen so many of them come when every other indication would say that hope was lost. Hope is never lost. If those miracles do not come soon or fully or seemingly at all, remember the Savior's own anguished example: if the bitter cup does not pass, drink it and be strong, trusting in happier days ahead." Though sentence structure alone doesn’t indicate the eloquence of a writer’s style, Holland uses word count in the paragraphs above strategically. The first paragraph averages 36 words per sentence while showing "deep sympathy." In contrast, the second paragraph of encouragement has an average word count of 14.5 per sentence (fewer by more than half words per sentence than the first paragraph). The second paragraph is marked by concise, feasible steps while the first was marked by flowing, seemingly indistinct modifiers. Although they are dissimilar in word count, the two sentence structures maintain his purpose of speaking with compassion to those who suffer.
Analysis of Paragraph #1 In the first paragraph, Holland is, in effect, thorough to show sensitivity and warmth. He is trying to say, “Come, warm your hands by the fire of my encouragement; I am here to buoy you up.” I believe brevity here would lack the sympathy strong enough to reach his audience. As he altruistically shared a moment in his life where he felt despairing discouragement, he incorporated non-restrictive modifiers to add richness and depth to his anecdote that he couldn’t have otherwise achieved. For example, he writes, “In that regard I once terrifyingly saw it in myself. At one point in our married life when financial fears collided with staggering fatigue, I took a psychic blow that was as unanticipated as it was real." The bolded words represent the descriptive modifiers; without such, his level of compassion would not have been achieved. With much less detail, he would have missed the opportunity to relate more fully with his audience. Additionally, his use of nonrestrictive modifiers represents the necessity to understand the ongoingness of God’s plan, especially for those suffering. Therefore, shortness of speech, or restrictive modifiers, would not have best encapsulated God's never-ending concern for those struggling. Furthermore, his concluding sentence in the first sample paragraph accurately provides another example where he used modifiers to reach a deeper level of connection, thus fulfilling his purpose to speak in a spirit of compassion. Let's imagine that this 85 word, modifier-filled sentence didn't contain the bolded portion: "In any case we have all taken courage from those who, in the words of the Prophet Joseph, 'search[ed] ... and contemplate[d] the darkest abyss' and persevered through it - not the least of whom were Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchhill, and Elder George Albert Smith, the latter being one of the most gentle and Christlike men of our dispensation, who battled recurring depression for some years before later becoming the universally beloved eighth prophet and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." His sentence would have sufficed without the modifiers, but I think he added them to relate, once again, on a deeper level with the faithful members of the church who revere prophets. Descriptive phrases like “persevered through it” and “battle recurring depression” bring him to the audience’s level and give concrete descriptions of his feelings. His purpose wasn’t verbosity, but to show support and understanding. A few extra words here serve to extend and demonstrate compassion. Now let's have a look at Holland’s use of shorter sentences to offer time-sensitive guidance and suggestions while speaking with compassion. As if he were a quarterback at the line of scrimmage, he calls an audible from the first sample paragraph to the second; instead of employing the use of long non-restrictive modifiers as he did in the first paragraph, he shortens the course of thought by using positive and negative forms of imperatives to lift the passive victim of depression to an active role. Instead of throwing incomplete passes, he reads the defense and throws touchdowns.
Analysis of Paragraph 2 His language in the second paragraph illustrates a change in strategy. While his purpose remains consistent, he switches from a tone of establishing friendship and building trust to a tone of urgency saying, "Believe in miracles. I have seen so many of them come when every other indication would say that hope was lost. Hope is never lost." Here, he inspires urgency with shorter sentence structures. If someone were drowning, you wouldn't call out to that person as if to say, “Hey, I know how you feel.” Rather, you would immediately throw out a life preserver to save him or her, quickly. So, his transition is not only one from flow to brevity, but from comfort to figuratively throwing out the life preserver and jumping in the ocean to save the weary traveler. With one imperative phrase after another, he encourages with the intent of not only showing compassion, but of responding now to the painful reality that some are tragically facing. He continues, "[N]ever lose faith...never doubt [God's love] . . . remember the Savior's own anguished example: if the bitter cup does not pass, drink it and be strong, trusting in happier days ahead." His consistent shorter directives aren't coincidental. They are coordinating an effort to prompt immediate action, which is necessary as pertaining to his topic of salvation. His brevity extends a helping hand of wisdom without lacking concern. Conclusion The New Oxford American Dictionary 3rd edition defines compassion as "sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others," and then provides the following example sentence: "[T]he victims should be treated with compassion." The word "treated" here is of particular interest to me because after offering this cursory stylistic analysis, I see that Holland is doing more than merely talking about mental and emotional disorders. He is showing how to encourage and speak in a spirit of "compassion one of another"—in effect, demonstrating how to treat with compassion.
Published on Dec 17, 2013