October 22, 2011

Myth: Don’t end a sentence with a preposition

Sir Winston Churchill supposedly* said this was “the kind of errant pedantry up with which I will not put.”

Now I ask you, does that really sound more natural than “That’s the kind of errant pedantry I will not put up with?”

No, obviously not.

Scholars are mainly the ones who fall for this baloney, but sometimes people who were traumatized by a misguided English composition teacher early in life will cling to it also.

Truth: There is no grammatical rule forbidding the ending of sentences with prepositions. But rhetoricians dislike such constructions because they make the end of the sentence feel weak. If I were inclined to edit the version attributed to Sir Winston, I would put “I will not put up with that kind of errant pedantry.” See? Ending with “errant pedantry” is strong.

But I’m not inclined to edit it, because it is funny.

*—There's no evidence to back up that story, but it does provide a useful example.

October 14, 2011

Every manager should read this book

How Full Is Your Bucket? Positive Strategies for Work and LifeHow Full Is Your Bucket? Positive Strategies for Work and Life by Tom Rath

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like parents who focus on the F's on a report card rather than the A's, many managers focus on critiquing weaknesses rather than developing strengths. But as "How Full is Your Bucket?" points out, our emotional buckets are filled by positive encounters and drained by negative ones.

Among the authors' key points:

* The Number One reason people leave their jobs is they don't feel appreciated.
* Praise must be meaningful and specific.
* Recognition is most appreciated and effective when it is individualized, specific, and deserved.
* Every interaction is an opportunity to fill someone's bucket -- or drain it.
* We are at our best when our buckets are full, and at our worst when they are empty.
* When we fill other people's buckets, we simultaneously fill our own.

Mind you, it's not possible to simply offer groundless praise. Every worker has room for improvement. But constructive feedback about what needs fixing is more effective when it's bracketed by genuine compliments and praise for strong points. Employees, like students and writers, need to build on their strengths in addition to improving their weaknesses.

Individualization is important, because while one worker may appreciate a plaque to hang on the wall, another might prefer some extra time off to spend with family. To aid in this, the book includes a "Bucket Filling Interview," which can help managers learn about what really motivates each employee.

The only drawback to this book -- although some might call it a strength -- is its brevity. I suspect there is much more to say on the subject of positive reinforcement in the workplace.

How Full is Your Bucket? will not only help managers encourage employees, it will help anyone see where they've been missing opportunities to fill other people's buckets.

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October 7, 2011

The wedding garment parable? It’s not about clothes.

David Stuart | iStockphoto
Matthew’s parable of the wedding feast contains an odd aside about an improperly attired guest. The king’s invited guests have failed to show up, so to fill the house and consume all that food, the king sends his servants out to find all and sundry and invite them to the party. So one fellow shows up in his workaday clothes, and the king says, “‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” (Matt. 22: 11-13)

This seems harsh. I mean, this improperly robed fellow could hardly be blamed for not dressing up when he didn’t get the invitation until long after the last minute.

Some commentaries say the guest is in trouble because the king would have supplied a robe, so the guest’s refusal to wear it was rude. But others say there’s no evidence to support this idea that hosts supplied clothes for guests -- especially a bunch of hastily rounded-up substitutes.

The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible said, as I suspected, that this passage isn’t about a literal garment. It’s about righteousness.

I pulled out William Barclay’s And Jesus Said, which examines the parables. Barclay’s theory is that Matthew recorded this as a warning against the sort of misconception Paul later addressed in his letter to the Romans. Some people apparently thought forgiveness means we can continue in sin so grace can abound. To which Paul replied: “By no means!” Barclay puts it this way:
It may well be, then, that Matthew is saying, “It is true that there is a free invitation from God to the most unlikely people; but that does not absolve them from the duty of trying to fit themselves to be His guests.” (And Jesus Said, page 159)
The ejected guest lacked three things: propriety, understanding, and reverence. He didn’t know what was appropriate, he didn’t know why the occasion was important, and he didn’t respect his host, the king.

How does this relate to our Christian walk?

We practice propriety in church buildings but forget that God is everywhere. Barclay writes: “It is not only in churches but in all the world that life must be fit for God to see.”

We forget what worship really is. We go through motions and recite creeds without understanding why it’s important to praise the One who made us.

We worship irreverently. Barclay notes that people will stand at attention for the national anthem, but slouch through a hymn; “and yet the hymn is sung to the King of Kings who is present at the service.”

Reverence is remembering that you are in the presence of the Lord Almighty, and behaving accordingly. The lesson of this odd little parable is that we ought to prepare ourselves for worship. Yes, we may approach the throne of grace with confidence. But we ought not do it five minutes late, disheveled, and preoccupied with worldly minutiae. We ought to do it with mindful care, clothed with “the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”

October 1, 2011

A fabulous fantasy adventure

By Darkness HidBy Darkness Hid by Jill Williamson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jill Williamson has crafted a deeply interesting storyworld with a rich culture. The kingdom of Er'Rets is fraught with internal conflicts, as nobles jockey for positions of power. Achan, a mistreated slave, is drawn into the country's power struggles when he's enlisted as a squire. Meanwhile, Vrell, the daughter of a duchess, masquerades as a slave to evade an unwelcome royal suitor.

The characters in this story are engaging and well-drawn. Williamson understands young people, and wonderfully captures the fickleness of young attractions, as Achan's heart wavers between his childhood sweetheart and a lovely young noblewoman. I found myself rooting for them in their struggles as the fabric of their culture shifts around them.

I'm sorry I didn't read this book sooner. But at least I was able to get Books 2 and 3 of this series even while I was still working on Book 1. I finished Book 1 while sitting in the Memphis airport waiting for my connecting flight home from the ACFW conference. I wrote this review. Then I started Book 2, which the author kindly signed for me during the conference. I love this story, and look forward to spending more time with Achan and Vrell and their knightly comrades.

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