Stop Burning The Straw Man

Erik Cooper —  July 9, 2012 — 5 Comments

The greatest threat to the human race is not nuclear weapons, global tyrants, or skyrocketing debt.

It’s hyperbole.

Yep. Exaggeration. Intentional overstatement, of which even this conglomeration of syllables itself qualifies.

I’m climbing on one of my soapboxes here this morning, but I’m growing quite weary of hyperbole. We all use it to make our points, but I think it’s time we start being a little more honest with ourselves.

Over the weekend, we took the kids to see The Lorax at the dollar theater (which is apparently $2.50 now?). It’s Dr. Seuss, Zac Efron, and Taylor Swift. Could there be a better way to spend a 107 degree July afternoon? Guess I should’ve done more research, because what I saw was nothing short of an animated indoctrination film. Let me see if I can sum it up for you:

Business owners are evil men who want to destroy the world for their own personal gain.

I spent the drive home unwinding the brainwash embedded amongst the brilliant animation and catchy song lyrics.

This isn’t a veiled political statement. Honest, God-fearing, Kingdom-minded people can (and do) have conflicting opinions on these types of conversations. What makes me angry isn’t disagreement or strong opinions, it’s the gross categorization and assumption of motivation for any endeavor.

When I watched that film, I didn’t see Gordon Gecko, Martha Stewart, or Bernie Madoff.

  • I saw my friend Steve, who’s mortgage closing business, after 5 years of incredible sacrifice (that he would never tell you about), is now providing jobs for four families and income for countless subcontractors each month. (Although he uses paper. Lots of paper. So I guess he may need a visit from a moustached, animated creature, too).
  • I saw my buddy Daniel, who’s marketing firm has exploded over the last 3 years. His business provides jobs for 5 families (with more hires on the way) and also helps other business become more successful.
  • I saw my dad, who’s 20 years of gut-wrenching hard work and sleepless nights created jobs for over 65 people, and affordable housing for over 2,000 families across Indiana and the Midwest. (Not to mention countless dollars for missions projects around the globe).

Defending free enterprise isn’t my point. Challenging the lure of rogue categorization and over-exaggeration to make a point is my point. We all can do it. We all need to be cautious of it.

In politics.

In education.

In relationships.

In business.

In media.

In The Church.

(Big churches, small churches, regional churches, neighborhood churches, organized churches, organic churches, churches with buildings, churches in homes – blah, blah, blah, blah, blah).

I’m growing tired of hyperbole. We love to create straw men and light them on fire. It draws a crowd. It gets attention. It’s easy.

Are there disgusting, greedy, self-absorbed, tyrant business men seeking to get all they can at the expense of everyone and everything around them?

Absolutely.

But when we paint with broad, exaggerated brushes, we distort the truth and miss the nuanced beauty. And that’s too bad. For all of us, I think.

Just my two cents. What do you think?

5 responses to Stop Burning The Straw Man

  1. First of all, thanks for presenting me (and two of my worthy predecessors in business).

    We used to give non profits and Churches discounts.

    While I still slip one in there from time to time, we quit doing that. We did it because I realized one day I believe that all businesses are meant to have as strong of an impact on the world as any church – maybe even more.

    Let’s say you make shoelaces. If you make shoelaces, you not only enrich people’s families with jobs, but you create a quality product that enables pedestrians all over the world to have an enriched and safe walking experience, while they take for granted many of the reasons why. The for profit businesses that are run by people driven by purpose are all over the world. We believe that all businesses are founded in the hearts of people and then staffed by people – that are driven to see positive impact in the world within the context of what their company provides.

    People may not understand your mission as well as you, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a mission.

    • “We believe that all businesses are founded in the hearts of people and then staffed by people.”

      Maybe that’s part of what I feel Daniel. Sometimes we want to turn “people” into “issues.” The problem isn’t business, it’s selfishness. The two CAN be connected fallen human beings, but they aren’t the same thing.

  2. Feel better now, Erik? :-)

    I see this as another symptom (outcome?) of our polarized society. I doubt if our country has been this divided (pick your issue or topic) since the Civil War.

  3. Hey Erik, I follow you on Twitter and I stumbled on your blog. I liked the post and I hear what you’re saying.
    For the sake of discussion, I think I’d push back on identifying the problem as “hyperbole” though. In fact, the ironic thing is that I found your intro to be hyperbolic. I think it’s fair to say you and I would much rather be hit with hyperbole than an nuclear bomb right? (That’s your hyperbole not mine btw :)

    I think the issue is using rhetoric responsibly and ethically. While I didn’t see the Lorax movie, from what you’re saying, they created “strawmen” in order to create an antagonist.
    On the flip side, your friends use their authority, power, position, and as Daniel showed here in the comments, rhetoric to serve the common good.

    That seems to me what we need more of and we need less of the type that only profits one’s ego and a company’s bottom line.
    Like the blog – see you around.

    • Hey Tim….thanks for the pushback (seriously). I will confess, my intro was intentionally over the top (hyperbole to expose hyperbole). :) But I hear your point…responsible rhetoric. I don’t want to neuter hyperbole as a way to force healthy conversation, but I guess I’ve grown weary of gross generalizations that avoid personal understanding. I do it, too (so I guess I should be tired of hypocrisy as well).

      Thanks for the thoughtful response. That’s what this is for.

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