Yes. I changed the title.
Nobody knew what “exegesis” was.
So here you go:
noun (plural exegeses-sēz)
Early 17th century: from Greek exēgēsis, from exēgeisthai ‘interpret’, from ex- ‘out of’ + hēgeisthai ‘to guide, lead’.
I read an article by John Piper, How to Read the Bible for Yourself, in which John provides a simple approach for normal people to read, interpret and apply a text of the Christian scriptures on their own, for use in their own lives.
Or, as my seminary professors called this process, exegesis.
I was struck by his very first point:
1. Read for the author’s meaning, not your own.
And I immediately thought of political discussions and what often happens when a politician or other leader speaks in an area of actual or potential controversy.
Most of us hear or read a political figure’s words and we hear what we want to hear, for good or bad. Or what we’re simply in the habit of hearing.
The meaning we draw is almost always what will serve our particular point, not the speaker’s.
In other words, we’re imputing meaning, rather than discovering it.
My professors called this mistake eisegesis.
Notice in the definition of exegesis above, the phrase “out of”? That’s what exegesis does. It draws meaning out of the text.
Eisegesis is the opposite.
It reads into the text meaning that isn’t really there.
That happens a lot in politics, doesn’t it?
We notice it more when it happens to our guy.
This effect is amplified when people are speaking extemporaneously, or spontaneously, in response to a question—a new question, perhaps, or a question they themselves didn’t fully grasp in the pressure of the moment.
It isn’t just partisans.
It’s just as often done by the press who, after all, are humans also with their own basket of ideas and prejudices to cut through.
The frustrating thing for the public figure whose words are being used to ensnare him or her, is that any attempt to clarify or correct is treated as “walking back” or “spinning.”
To defend is being “touchy.”
No one is ever allowed to correct the record.
And as much as we all claim to be masters of nuance—forget that, buddy.
What would happen?
What would happen if we consistently responded to what even a politician says with a good faith effort to understand rather than impute?
What would happen if, given a range of possible meanings in a public figure’s words (or the guy you’re debating on Twitter, for that matter), we made a habit of choosing the meaning that casts the best light on that person’s understanding and intentions, rather than what makes our side come out winners in the exchange?
What would happen if tried—really hard—to listen for the speaker’s meaning, not our own?
Obviously, this is too much to ask of opposition operatives, but what about the rest of us?
Maybe instead of constantly bemoaning the toxic cynicism of our politics, we simply choose for ourselves accuracy and good will.
You know, do unto others.
If nothing else, it would likely improve our reading comprehension skills.
That would be an improvement.