We Must

by Nic Olson

No living man can exist without some aim and the endeavour to attain it. A man who has lost his purpose and his hope not infrequently turns monster from misery…

-Fyodor Dostoyevsky,
Memoirs from the House of the Dead, p306

I have become a charismatic preacher. I was bred for pulpit fist-slamming since I was a young Estevanite wearing turquoise pants, turquoise striped shirt and plastic necklace in which I could put my collection plate money. My first sermon was when I was in grade two, slapping the demons out of the neighbour’s dog Sandy. Then in grade nine, when I brought elderly women to tears. A real child preacher, they said. Real promise.

And now, in everyday conversation and writing, I find myself using fire-and-brimstone phrasing. The fires of hell, the souls of sinners, the wrath of God, the tender touch of the Holy Spirit. But most of all, the ‘We Must’ phrase. We mustn’t let stupidity get hold of us. We must fight the good fight. We must search for more. We must, we must, we must.

Certain writers and orators have the ability to express imperative ideas without using the ‘We Must’ phrasing, and these people have a definite gift. When I want to get my point across directly and bluntly, I fall upon this type of phrase, and without fail, it alienates and comes off as preachy to all. Certain literary intellectuals write entire novels to simply get a few ideas across without being preachy, and although it is far simpler to just write, ‘We must have an aim and endeavour to attain it’, Dostoevsky used brilliant detailed stories to get his ideas across.

In editing a long piece of writing over a period of several years, certain segments become wordy, or tired, or old, and after reading and rereading the same paragraph one thousand times, the easiest thing to do is to take the idea out of the poorly written paragraph, highlight it all, press delete, and write a ‘We Must’ phrase to turn a poorly written paragraph into a poorly written, preachy, phrase. ‘We Must’ prevails.

The executioner’s is a good life. He has money, good food, and vodka.

-Fyodor Dostoyevsky,
Memoirs from the House of the Dead, p240

To demonstrate, here is a ‘We Must’ phrase for the previous quote. We must become an executioner, because an executioner has a good life. We must have money. We must eat good food. We must drink vodka.
It is that simple. Take any sentence, turn it into a ‘We Must’ phrase, say it with conviction, slam your fist on the table or the wall next to you, and there you have it. You are a bonafide, charismatic, gospel preacher.

We must learn to relay real ideas without using the ‘We Must’ rhetoric.

God be with you.

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