On suicide bombers and cultural suicide

By , 4 January 2008 5:55 pm

Over the last year or so, I have found myself wondering about my hearing. Conversation in crowded places and restaurants has seemed difficult and I have, on odd occasions, misheard students in class. Anyway I got my ears tested this morning and was pleasantly surprised to discover that my hearing was perfectly normal. The sensitivity of the left ear was very slightly down but it was still within normal parameters.

As I thought about the results, two related (trust me) thoughts came together. The first was sitting at my desk, eating lunch in Beirut one Monday in April 1983. In a paroxysm of sound somehow incarnated as brute force, I was picked up off my chair and thrown to the floor. As I staggered to my feet I could see through the door to left of where I had been sitting, shattered windows. Beyond them, a billowing black and grey cloud was angrily boiling rising up from the American Embassy, barely a hundred yards away. It soon transpired that a truck had driven in with what was later determined to be nearly 1,000 kg of high explosive. As stood amid the broken glass, my ears ringing, I heard the surprise in the voices of my Lebanese colleagues as they passed on the rumour that it had been a suicide bomber. Despite nine years of civil war it was an novel concept; it is now generally held that this was first suicide bombing of its kind.

I also remember going up to the American University Hospital shortly afterwards for some reason I cannot now remember. As walked up I saw a young couple – evidently Americans – walking away from the hospital, holding each other for comfort, their once smart clothes, their hair and their grief-stricken faces covered in a fine pale dust that made them look like as if they had returned from the grave. When I saw their kind again on 9/11, I shuddered. So I do wonder whether my slightly weaker left ear is a tiny scar of that blast. In which case I got off lightly: sixty-three people died.

The second thought was this: if it isn’t my hearing, is it my students? Actually I think there is something in this. My students – bless them – as a whole no longer read and they no longer read to people. Many of them have lost the art of clear speaking or any sort of verbal clarity. Their music shouts at them and they mutter at each other and mumble back. With exceptions, they do not express themselves with either clarity or coherence. I’m probably oversimplifying and I’m not blaming them. But I do think we have lost the art of speaking properly and what that portends seems to me far more worrying than any number of suicide bombers.

On a more cheery note; our younger son, Mark has just announced his engagement to a splendid lass, Alice. We heartily approve and the wedding is set for 15 November in the rather tasteful (and more importantly) very evangelical London church of St James Clerkenwell. Hurrah!

6 Responses to “On suicide bombers and cultural suicide”

  1. Catherine Brislee says:

    Dear Chris,

    I remember hearing about that attack on the news. I was pregnant with my daughter at the time, and everything seemed to be conspiring to tell me that I was bringing a child into a dangerous world.

    So it is wonderful that you end with the news about your son. Many many congratulations, and how lovely for your future daughter-in-law to feel so welcomed into your family!

    With best wishes,

  2. Terry says:


    Sincere congratulations! With all the potential for poor choices that are available for our children, it is always such a blessing when they make good ones. And this is just about as big a choice as they come. Wonderful!

    On the issue of clarity in speech:
    I, too, have noticed a deterioration in the clarity with which people speak. It seems to be a trendy thing to speak quickly and to slur one’s words, and I suppose if you’re in that loop, you understand what’s being said. But what many young people don’t seem to understand is that life consists of communicating with all age groups, and not everyone speaks that dialect.

    Our youth pastor is one such. When he preaches, one gets the feeling that he is speaking to his youth group around the campfire, not to a wide range of demographics. He’s a super fellow, to be sure, and we are very grateful for his influence in the lives of our children, and of course that’s the main thing. But it is a case in point.

    I do wonder if, as I said, part of the problem is that there seems to be a wider gap between generations than there used to be. Young people don’t see the need to communicate (as different than talk) with others of all ages. In my youth, it was normal to have in-depth conversations with older people on a variety of subjects, and it was expected that not only could you discuss with some insight, but also clearly and with good vocabulary as well.

    But the main problem is, as you pointed out, that far too many people simply don’t read, or at least don’t read quality. I’m convinced that one of the best ways to improve one’s conversation is to read books that show what good conversation looks like. Jane Austen and Lucy Maud Montgomery, among others, were very good at presenting stimulating conversation that was more of an art form than mere communication. C.S. Lewis is good as well, although with him it’s not so much conversation as his command of the language that I find fascinating.

    Take care,


  3. Boaz says:

    About 10 years ago, when I was in college, I actually found myself somewhat ostracized for speaking clearly (specifically using the terminal ‘g’ in gerunds), and a number of other students told me to loosen up. I replied that it would take quite a bit of effort to deliberately pronounce the words incorrectly.

    Congratulations as well on your son’s engagement! Mine’ll have to wait a couple of decades, since he just turned 5 months.

  4. Amanda says:

    I don’t remember that as I was not even born, but I have seen other bombings and can guess how horrible it was.
    Congrats on the engagement of your son. That is really great!! I can’t wait til mine!!
    Love, Prayers and Blessings,

  5. dugmad says:


    Congratulations on your family announcement! By the sounds of it you are gaining a fine daughter in law.

    As a father of 3 teens and an instructor at our local college, I hear what you are saying about speaking. With so many youth not reading enough, are we surprised? I think there is a direct connection to amount read and how well one speaks. By exposing ourselves to the written word we learn to structure in our minds how words can flow and work for us. Of course we need to practice speaking as well to really become proficient at it. And in this world of “text me” I fear for the spoken word.

    As a home schooling family, we had our kids do a readers theatre every week from the stories and such that the kids had written. Our one son took a couple of Great books courses through our HS association and he read Dante and many others. He took a latin course in his grade nine year. And aside from the predictable teen, “I never get enough sleep”, mumbling he is quite well spoken for a young person.

    Take care.


    p.s. Any definitive news on when Infinite day will hit the shelves?

  6. Chris says:

    Thanks for all these comments. If you believed in human evolution it would almost be enough to make you wonder if we hadn’t reached the high point and were now on the way down the evolutionary ladder. :-)

    Dugmad,all I can say for a definitive date is that Amazon.com are showing June 01.



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