Thursday, May 5, 2011

Concise writing is usually clear writing (17) – Theodore Dalrymple

Here’s another good example of clear, concise writing. It’s from an essay titled “The Barbarians at the Gates of Paris,” by Anthony (A.M.) Daniels (pictured), a retired British medical doctor who writes as Theodore Dalrymple:

It was just off the Boulevard Saint-Germain, in a neighborhood where a tolerably spacious apartment would cost $1 million. Three youths – Romanians – were attempting quite openly to break into a parking meter with large screwdrivers to steal the coins. It was four o’clock in the afternoon; the sidewalks were crowded, and the nearby cafés were full. The youths behaved as if they were simply pursuing a normal and legitimate activity, with nothing to fear.

Eventually two women in their sixties told them to stop. The youths, laughing until then, turned murderously angry, insulted the women, and brandished their screwdrivers. The women retreated, and the youths resumed their “work.”

A man of about seventy then told them to stop. They berated him still more threateningly, one of them holding a screwdriver as if to stab him in the stomach. I moved forward to help the man, but the youths, still shouting abuse and genuinely outraged at being interrupted in the pursuit of their livelihood, decided to run off. But it all could have ended very differently.

Several things struck me about the incident: the youths’ sense of invulnerability in broad daylight; the indifference to their behavior of large numbers of people who would never dream of behaving in the same way; that only the elderly tried to do anything about the situation, though physically least suited to do so. Could it be that only they had a view of right and wrong clear enough to wish to intervene?

In 247 words, Mr. Dalrymple explains why crime has grown so fast in Paris (and throughout the Western world) and why it will continue to grow as the older generation dies off.

The Takeaway: A relevant anecdote, clearly and concisely told, can make your point.

See disclaimer.

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