Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Harry Belafonte - The Voice of Morality?

I don't normally think of people in the entertainment industry as reliable spokespersons for traditional morality. However, I just came across the following comments by singer Harry Belafonte (biography here for those of you too young to recognize his name ;~) in a September 9, 1993 article in the New York Times:

"We're in a struggle for the soul of this country," he says. "We're in a struggle for America's moral center. And unless that can be made straight, I'm not too sure any of the other battles are winnable.

"How do you end racism in the midst of a place that is so morally collapsed? How do you end poverty in a place so spiritually poor? How do you end hunger in a place so driven by such greed and avarice? If one doesn't attend to this moral question, how can you lead this country if you're morally weak. . . "

Of course, Belafonte has also made plenty of controversial comments in recent years that I disagree with. But in this case, it seems he's recognized the connection between social justice and spiritual/moral strength.

Or has he?

One might ask just what Mr. Belafonte means by the terms moral center, morally collapsed, spiritually poor, and morally weak. Does he mean the same thing I would mean if I used those terms?

Words have meanings—both denotations and connotations—and sometimes what I mean when I use a certain word isn't what the dictionary defines the word as. That's a key thing to remember whenever we read or discuss matters with someone with a different worldview than our own. It's easy to assume that we're "on the same page," or "speaking the same language" when in fact, we may be polar opposites.

And based on several of Mr. Belafonte's other comments over the years, it appears we need language lessons if we plan to speak with one another.

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