Goats and Doves

In order to learn more about writing I purchased and am reading the book, Telling True Stories, edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call.


It presents dozens of short articles by teachers of writing at places like Harvard University. One of the chapters very briefly introduces the Ladder of Abstraction, a concept that originated in S.I. Hayakawa’s Language in Action. The concept is that all language functions on a continuum from the lowest rungs – which communicate concrete, direct meanings, to middle rungs – which communicate larger concepts, to the upper rungs – which communicate themes or big ideas. This is one of those ideas that, when you encounter it, you know that you are encountering something bigger and more important than you can completely absorb all at once. The writer of this short piece says that he’s been growing in his understanding of the Ladder of Abstraction for 15 years. Wow.



In any event, what I’m getting is that a writer doesn’t need to make an either-or decision about whether to write about thematic, big ideas. I think what’s being suggested is that a piece of writing can simultaneously address both the down-to-earth and the lofty. I want to try to do this more in my writing, whether that’s what the Ladder of Abstraction is all about or not.


Jesus, himself, provides a model here. Known for his parables, Jesus seems to have always taught on both the down-to-earth and lofty levels. When he spoke about seed falling on various types of ground and either bearing fruit or not, he spoke about a topic that nearly everyone can immediately understand without interpretive help. In spite of this, he offered an interpretation that helped his learners gain an appreciation of an aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven. It doesn’t get any more “lofty” than that, does it?


If you’re wondering about my title, “Goats and Doves,” let me explain. I’m told that the expression, “putting the hay down where the goats can eat it” refers to saying or writing something clearly and plainly enough for everyday folks to understand. The “doves” part of my title is my own suggestive image of ideas that open heavenly understandings.



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