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Be Heard. Speak Plainly.

Be Heard. Speak Plainly.

Crystal Clear

    Every semester I get a handful of students who have settled on the idea that the more big words they use, the better. Regardless of whether they know what those words mean or not.

    So I get papers elucidating the patriarchal configuration of the social arrangement, rather than telling me about male-dominated societies. Or they pontificate on the topic of inadequate provision of pedagogical resources vis-à-vis the particular requirements of participation in the modern form of governance, instead of describing the failure of schools to prepare kids to be good citizens. And so on.

    They learn it, of course, from the bad writing that plagues many of the works assigned to them. But it is because we as a society hold such work in high regard that students ape the style of the complicated stuff instead of the more readable work on their reading lists – which is just a s common as the hoity-toity stuff. They think writing smart must mean using big words and tortured grammar, mistaking difficulty of a work for some measure of its quality.

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    If you have to work at it, the thinking goes, it must be worth working at.

    Of course, this is nonsense. Yes, there are works of exceeding difficulty that are worth reading – in spite of the difficulty, not because of it. And these works – even the best of them – would benefit greatly from a good strong dose of plainspoken-ness. In fact, the ideas in many academic works may even be stronger if they were expressed more clearly.

    The same holds true for all kinds of writing and speaking – for communication in general. If it’s important at all, it deserves to be expressed clearly and plainly, so that anyone can understand it. The language that academics use and students love to imitate is not meant to communicate ideas, it’s meant to hide them, to act as a test to see who belongs and who doesn’t. The same is true of the gibberish that many business people write and speak, leveraging their synergistic solution platforms in order to maximize the extraction of secondary revenues in the blah blah blah.

    The problem is that this kind of language buries ideas and muddies thinking. Which, of course, is the point a lot of the time – the business can’t come right out and say they killed 400 people with faulty products and the student can’t come out an say she has no idea what the readings were about or that he hasn’t been to class for weeks.

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    But if the ideas are important – and if you live a life where they aren’t, get out and start over – they deserve to be shared in all their glory, not hidden behind a veil of words. It’s not too hard to speak or write plainly if you follow a few simple rules.

    1. Honor the idea.

    Speaking plainly starts and ends with the idea. This could be how to bring about world peace or what Pantone color to use on your office’s stationery – put the idea front and center and let it shine. Don’t damage it by trying to make it appear fancy – if it’s a good one, it doesn’t need help and if it’s a bad one, it doesn’t need saying.

    Along the same lines, avoid qualifying yourself too much. While it’s fine to express uncertainly when you’re really uncertain, too often people “soften” their ideas by phrasing them as things that they “believe” or “think” or “feel”. They present facts as opinions and opinions as feelings, making it almost impossible to deal with the actual substance of the idea being spoken. Don’t do that – stand behind what you say and take the risk of being wrong.

    2. Be yourself.

    Usually when people speak un-plainly, it’s because they are trying to appear to be something – or someone – that they’re not: smarter, better educated, most business-like, cooler, or whatever.  They’re hiding their real self behind a screen of words that they would never use otherwise. It’s a bit odd, really – if the idea you’re trying to express is yours, why pretend someone else had it?

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    3. When given a choice, choose the shorter word.

    English is a funny language; there are almost always two or more words that mean the same thing. Usually, one will tend to be longer and more vague, like “civilized”, and the other will be shorter and more direct, like “polite” or “nice” or just “good”. As a general rule, people trying to dress up their ideas in showy clothes go for the longer, vaguer words – which is why the idea itself can be weakened. Use indirect language to express yourself long enough, soon even you will not be able to say exactly what it is you mean! When you have a choice, go for the shorter word – if it sounds too blunt or even rude, chances are it’s the clearest way to say what you intend.

    4. Cut the description.

    There is a place for description of course: when you’re describing something. But too often people attempt to give their ideas a little extra “oomph” by adding a whole bunch of adjectives and adverbs around it, burying the idea itself beneath a mass of irrelevant detail. Cut to the chase and leave the descriptive language for when its needed.

    5. Communication is job one.

    Sometimes when you’re writing something or speaking, you’ll have the urge to “step up” the language because what you’re saying doesn’t sound pretty enough. This means it’s working. Remember that, unless you’re writing a poem or a ballad, your first priority isn’t to impress people with the beauty of your prose but to communicate an idea to them.

    6. Don’t be afraid of “you” and “me”.

    Another way that people use language to hide their ideas in a vain attempt to sound impressive is to write in a distant, impersonal tone. While there are some forms of writing where this is necessary – journalism, for example, or clinical reports – a lot of writing and speech can be made more approachable by embracing the first person. Using “I” and “me” gives your readers or listeners something – someone –to attach the ideas you’re expressing to a real person, making them more concrete and more human.

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    Likewise, you can engage your audience more fully by speaking directly to and about them, instead of about “one” or even “we”. Instead of putting your examples in the third person, address them directly to your reader or listener by using “you”.

    Remember, no matter how good your ideas, if you can’t communicate them clearly you may as well not have them. Speak plainly and be heard!

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    Last Updated on August 7, 2018

    10 Famous Failures to Success Stories That Will Inspire You to Carry On

    10 Famous Failures to Success Stories That Will Inspire You to Carry On

    Failure occurs everyday, in school, jobs, housework, and within families. It is unavoidable, irritating and causes pessimism.

    While the thought of flinging your hands in the air and walking away is all too appealing, take a second to connect with the people who have been there and survived.

    Here are 10 famous failures to success stories around the world that will inspire you to keep going and achieve greatness:

    1. J.K. Rowling

    J.K.-Rowling

      During a Harvard commencement speech, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling outlined the importance and value of failure.[1]

      Why? Simply because she was once a failure too.

      A few short years after her graduation from college, her worst nightmares were realized. In her words,

      “I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.”

      Coming out of this failure stronger and more determined was the key to her success.

      2. Steve Jobs

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        The now revolutionary Apple started off with two men in a garage. Years later we all know it as a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees.

        Yet, almost unbelievably, Steve Jobs was fired from the very company he began.

        The dismissal made him realize that his passion for his work exceeded the disappointment of failure. Further ventures such as NeXT and Pixar eventually led Jobs back to the CEO position at AppleJobs said in 2005:

        “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.”

        Lost your job today? Keep kicking and you could be just like this guy!

        3. Bill Gates
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          Bill Gates was a Harvard dropout. He co-owned a business called Traf-O-Data, which was a true failure.[2]

          However, skill and a passion for computer programming turned this failure into the pioneer of famous software company Microsoft, and the then 31-year-old into the world’s youngest self-made billionaire.

          In his own words:

          “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”

          This isn’t to say that dropping out of Harvard will make you into a billionaire, but maybe that shiny degree isn’t worth as much as the drive and passion to succeed.

          4. Albert Einstein
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            The word ‘Einstein’ is associated with intelligence and synonymous with genius. Yet it is a famous fact that the pioneer of the theory of general relativity, Albert Einstein himself, could not speak fluently until the age of nine. His rebellious nature led to expulsion from school, and he was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School.

            His earlier setbacks did not stop him from winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921. After all, he believed that:

            “Success is failure in progress.”

            To this day, his research has influenced various aspects of life including culture, religion, art, and even late night TV.

            Just because you haven’t achieved anything great yet, doesn’t mean you can’t be an Einstein yourself.

            5. Abraham Lincoln

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              Failing in business in 1831, suffering a nervous breakdown in 1836, defeated in his run for president in 1856, Abraham Lincoln was no stranger to rejection and failure. Rather than taking these signs as a motivation for surrender, he refused to stop trying his best.

              In this great man’s words:

              “My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.”

              Lincoln was elected in 1861 as the 16th President of the United States of America.

              The amount of rejection you receive is not a defining factor. Success is still within your reach.

              6. Michael Jordan

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                “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

                This quote by retired basketball legend Michael Jordan in a Nike advertisement speaks for itself.

                It would be an easy misconception that Jordan’s basketball skills revolve around natural talent. In fact, in his earlier years,  basketball coaches had trouble looking past the fact that Jordan didn’t reach the minimum height. It was years of effort, practice, and failure that made the star we know today.

                7. Steven Spielberg

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                  Regarded as one of the most influential filmmakers of all time, Steven Spielberg is a familiar household name. It is surprising to realize therefore that the genius behind Jaws and E.T. had poor grades in high school, getting him rejected from the University of Southern California three times.

                  While he was in college, he caught the eye of executives at Universal, who signed him as a television director in 1969. This meant that he would not finish his college degree for another 33 years.

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                  Perseverance and acceptance of failure is the key to success, after all.

                  “Even though I get older, what I do never gets old, and that’s what I think keeps me hungry.”

                  Bad grades in high school aside, there is no questioning the genius involved.

                  To date, Spielberg has directed 51 films and has been awarded three Oscars.

                  8. Walt Disney

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                    Mickey Mouse creator Walt Disney dropped out of school at a young age in a failed attempt at joining the army.[3] One of his earlier ventures, Laugh-o-Gram Studios, went bankrupt due to his lack of ability to run a successful business. He was once fired from a Missouri newspaper for “not being creative enough.”

                    Yet today, The genius behind Disney studios is responsible for generations of childhood memories and dreams. From Snow White to Frozen, Disney will continue to entertain the world for generations to come.

                    The logic behind this is simple:

                    “We don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

                    9. Vincent Van Gogh
                    vincent_van_gogh

                      During his lifetime, Vincent Van Gogh suffered mental illness, failed relationships, and committed suicide at the age of 37.

                      He only ever sold one painting in his life, pinning him a failure as an artist. However that did not put a damper on his enthusiasm and passion for art.

                      He would never know that years and years after his death he would become known as a key figure in the world of post-impressionism, and ultimately, one of the greatest artist that ever lived.

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                      He would never know that he became a hot topic in art classes and his image was going to be used in TV, books and other forms of popular culture.

                      In the words of this great, but tragic man:

                      “If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

                      10. Stephen King

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                        As a paranoid, troubled child, tormented by nightmares and raised in poverty, it is no surprise that Stephen King grew up to the title: “Master of Horror”.[4]

                        An addiction to drugs and alcohol were his mechanisms to cope with the unhappiness he felt with his life. The frustration he felt towards multiple rejections by publishers in combination with illicit substances caused him to mentally contemplate violence towards his own children.

                        These intense emotions were those that he focused onto his writing. And that’s why he said:

                        “We make up horros to help us cope with the real ones.”

                        Writing became his new coping mechanism, and this is how the master author we know today grew to success.

                        Fail more often in order to succeed

                        Like Albert Einstein said, failure really is just success in progress. If you’d rather not to fail, you will probably never succeed.

                        Success comes from moments of frustrations when you’ll be most uncomfortable with. But after you’ve gone through all those bitter times, you’ll become stronger and you’ll get closer to success.

                        Don’t be afraid to fail. In fact, start failing, and start failing often; that’s how you will succeed.

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                        Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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