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Zen and English, Part 3: Fire
The Post of Fire
Fire represents the agent of active change. Fire, originally a force for destruction, is used daily by mankind for the forging of metals, the heating of homes, and the illumination of city streets. It is a fundamental part of our world.
Fire represents the active voice and the emotional impact of language.
Why does “I love you” sound much more emotionally gripping than “You are loved”? One is active; the other is passive. One is presented as emanating directly from a single person; the other is presented as a state of being that may be from one person, or many. Yet it is the knowledge that one person is actively loving us that has direct emotional impact.
In English, it is the active voice which is more poignant, more engaging, and simply stronger. The active voice is therefore to be used everywhere possible. This is not always possible, but the active voice creates passion in the language.
It is this passion, and this emotional energy, that is critical for success in good English writing.
What is therefore necessary, but not easy for a non-native speaker, is to learn the emotional implications of words and phrases in the English language. This includes, but is not limited to, English idiomatic expressions.
Why do people use an informal phrase like “He kicked the bucket,” instead of, “He died“? Using the idiom means reducing the emotional impact of the phrase. This is done by English speakers to soften the emotional impact of speaking about death, something with an inherently large amount of emotional impact.
For example, in recent days, Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former Senator and former presidential candidate John Edwards, died of cancer. But this is not how newspapers refer to the issue; they would be accused of being insensitive to Mrs. Edwards’ family and many public sympathizers. Instead, they proclaimed that Elizabeth Edwards lost her battle with cancer.
Knowing the emotional impact of words helps us not only raise the level of impact, but to lower the level of impact as necessary or desired. Sometimes louder is not better.
Understanding the emotional weight of words helps us understand how others feel, and helps us understand how to convey what we feel to others. Only then can we learn to appreciate the subtleties of the language and develop the wisdom to be more direct, or less direct, in our dealings with others.
This greatly expands our ability to communicate.
Let us meditate upon this.