Tuesday, October 2, 2012


In the Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield relays a story about a classmate at one of the prep schools he attended.  The classmate, whose name I believe was Kinsella, would interrupt his teachers' lectures by yelling out "digression" whenever the teacher, well, digressed.

For some reason this popped into my head today as I was driving to work.  What I started to think about was whether digressions were always a bad thing.  Are digressions always transgressions?

Sure, as someone who has spent a good deal of time teaching students how to prepare and deliver talks, I know organization is a key to success and speakers should follow a coherent path when they address audiences.  To digress would, of course, violate this principle.  Tomorrow night when the presidential candidates square off during the debates, they will probably want to stay on topic and not digress--unless the response to a question would take them into dangerous waters--making a digression an attractive strategy to avoid a vulnerable area.  However, often such a dodge is obvious, and besides it is deceptive, so an ethical speaking coach would recommend that speakers stick with the key messages and not digress.

But outside the world of public speaking, a digression might not be a bad thing now and again if, in fact, the path you are on is taking you the wrong way.  To digress from forward motion heading to perilous turf would seem to be the thing to do.  To digress in such situations might indicate some progress even though an outside observer probably would not see this from her or his vantage point.

In sports, varying your game plan when you are being pummelled is the thing to do.  Same thing outside the lines of sport. And outside the lines of sport a good friend is someone who shouts Digression.  Unlike Kinsella who was pointing out a deficiency, your friend is urging you to digress in order to right yourself-- a necessary step for progress.

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