Sharing the Issues


“I have weather issues,” my grandson told me several years ago, referring to the violent windstorm he had been caught in, which, for the rest of the summer, caused him anxiety when an even remotely dark cloud appeared on the horizon. He was seven years old.

Today in America nobody is too young to have issues. Toddlers have sandbox issues. Issues are what used to be called the routine hills and bumps of getting from morning to night. They have been around a long time; Job had issues. By calling them issues we wrap ourselves in the palliative language of therapy. We no longer phone or visit friends who are in trouble; we reach out to them. That way we can find closure.

And don’t get me started on “share,” the word I most loathe in the feel-good lexicon. I first learned in the 1970s that “share” really means “dump on.” As master of Branford College at Yale, I dreaded the approach of any student counselors who said, “May I share something with you?” They seemed unduly pleased to be bearing some morsel of dishevelment that I, the sharee, didn’t really need to know. Since then “share” has crept into popular usage as a synonym for “tell.” “Did Rick share with you that we’re coming for dinner tonight?” He did. He told me.

A heap of sharing was perpetrated after the recent death of the reclusive writer J. D. Salinger, especially in the pages of the magazine that was his mother church, where several staff writers retroactively outed the hermit of Cornish by sharing what a sociable guy he was if you only knew him. The important thing about Salinger is that he was a writer, just as Thoreau was a writer when he moved to a cabin at Walden Pond because he “wished to live deliberately.” I doubt if the local townsfolk lost much sleep over how Henry was coping with his issues during the two years he spent in the woods. Living deliberately, he learned how to write one of America’s sacred texts.

(Copyright 2010 by William K. Zinsser)

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William Zinsser, who died in 2015, was the author of 18 books, including On Writing Well, and a columnist for the Scholar website.


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