Thursday, December 18, 2008

Deliberate Haste

Barack Obama used the phrase "deliberate haste" to describe the process by which he is putting together his cabinet. I wondered if that was a phrase of his own making or a well worn expression that I'd not heard before.

Googling around I discovered a fascinating discussion at the Visual Thesaurus. (Which itself was triggered by a piece in the New York Times by William Safire.)

This debate is not so much about the origin of the phrase but whether it is an oxymoron.

The phrase does seem to be new, but it echoes the expression "deliberate speed", made famous by a US Supreme Court decision on desegregation.

Some people argue that "haste" inherently implies too quick, too unconsidered, and therefore certainly not deliberate, at least in the sense of "carefully thought out". They argue that deliberate speed is meaningful, but deliberate haste is a contradiction.

I'd say it is a striking and effective phrase. It works precisely because it conveys an emotional state, an attitude towards the situation, a way-of-being that is the holding together of two opposites.

"Haste" tells us that the situation is critical, the need acute, and speaker feels its urgency, is moved to jump right in.

But "deliberate haste" tells us that feeling all of that, he will make the effort to retain his composure, think through what is needed, move swiftly but not rashly. He will discipline himself despite his emotions and the gravity of the situation.

That seems to capture perfectly both Obama's approach to the transition and the nature of the man himself. It's a phrase that communicates vividly, perhaps even shows us a way that we too be in a crisis, people of deliberate haste.

No comments:

Post a Comment