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Monday, March 25, 2013

Merely Slow or Simply Shackled: An Investigation of Spontaneous Repartee

Wooden Man
When Speech Was Fun
Photos from Basic Principles of Speech, 3rd Edition (Sarett, Foster, Sarett)

Recall a time when you were quite “tongue-tied” or speechless. What happened? How did you recover? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1159).

Repartee: 1) a : a quick and witty reply b : a succession or interchange of clever retorts : amusing and usually light sparring with words 2) : adroitness and cleverness in reply : skill in repartee (Merriam-Webster). 

I have often wondered which is more important and which trait comes first– spirit or intelligence? In my view skills in repartee open a window upon the answer to this question. Nothing comes close to portraying capability in human affairs more than the mastery of repartee. Think of any truly effective leader and you are certain to find agility in this skill. For most of us the manifestation of repartee has a strongly situational component. A child, for example, can be very timid and tongue-tied in public, but very outgoing and expressive within the safety and comfort of home. In other words at home the child is given “permission” for the exercise of a free spirit – a freedom that she does not enjoy within the company of strangers. This has immense and profound implications for the depth and extent of cognitive brain function. I have been astounded by the creativity and intellectual capacity of people (I initially adjudged second-rate) once they entered friendly environments—once they felt truly free. Certainly a major component of any leadership training will emphasize self-confidence and knowledge less and this spiritual dimension more. The most direct route to this result is the acceptance of the reality (nonbelievers would call it conceit) that God loves us and has made us unique for unique contributions—contributions that only we can make—and this permission to be free can occur literally anywhere and at any time for God is everywhere and never abandons us. In other words, there is no place (high, low, or in-between) that we cannot be spiritually at home and effectively free.

In this light leadership can be seen as telegraphing stability—but a very special type of stability. Not the stability of one ossified in habits or ideology, but paradoxically the stability of one firmly anchored by a spiritual freedom that enables creativity and openness to present reality. In meeting current challenges, for these people history is a guide providing principles of endearment and instruction without paralyzing them with the dead hand of precedent. The human role is seen as a vital exercise of creativity and consciousness upon the cusp of history—even a history that can be immediately personal and contemporary. I cannot think in these terms without remembering the press conferences filled with kindness and grace presided over by John F. Kennedy. The press loved JFK for the supreme compliment of equality he shared with every reporter—even hostile ones attempting to enshroud him in dark clouds of controversy. JFK’s repartee filled the room with light and goodwill. In this sense he charmed would-be venomous snakes and made them friends.

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