Write So Your Mom Can Understand
A friend wrote me the following:
“Maybe there is a temptation to be intellectual. Avoid that. Just be human, honest and practical.”
I have heard feedback like this before. I do use jargon that sounds intellectual. I can tease out a few reasons for this.
Firstly, wanting to appear to be an intellectual. I did terribly in school due to learning difficulties and felt intellectually inadequate or, more bluntly, stupid. Appearing as an intellectual has been an overcompensation for this.
Secondly, there is convenience (and subsequent laziness) in using terms that compress a lot of meaning. For example, in my last entry on livelihood, I was tempted to use a phrase like “existential labour” instead of saying, “pretending your job is meaningful when it is not.”
Thirdly, using jargon has become an acquired taste. There is something delightful about coming across a new phrase. It invokes a nerdy high.
Fourthly, there is a culture of people who like using jargon. The Stoa is a cozy place for jargon aficionados to meet and impress one another with their collection of jargony terms.
Despite my propensity to use jargon terms, using them is foolish. It is not accessible, and I want my projects to be accessible. They are also unnecessary if something can be explained in plain language when an established sense of what the words mean exists.
However, there has been a benefit to my overindulgence in jargon. I have become playful with the words I use. I stopped taking them so seriously, allowing me to focus on the emotions underlying the words, often revealing what was really being communicated. I am also less intimidated and beholden to smart-sounding people, which gives me greater flexibility to think for myself.
Developmental theorist Susanne Cook-Greuter has a jargon term for this playful state: “construct awareness.” She links construct awareness to the fool archetype. Once people realize they are fooling themselves by thinking they understand the world with their impressive jargon-full theories, they have greater freedom to laugh at their foolishness, which may give wisdom a chance.
The real reason I am interested in this topic has to do with my mom. She is subscribed to this newsletter and confessed that she does not read my entries. That made me sad to hear. She also said she felt guilty for not reading them, which made me feel better. When I asked her why she did not read them, she pointed to the jargon. I know what she means. For instance, I get lost reading academic papers or French philosophers and get annoyed because their words can be expressed in plainer language.
My mom wants to read my writings, and I also want her to read them. I am sad that my jargon indulgence prevented her from doing this. My “normal” friends who read my writings expressed the same thing. This feedback inspires me to write here with the following principle:
Write so my mom can understand.
P.s. Hi mom. 👋 I appreciate you. ❤️
Less Foolish is a communal newsletter that cultivates a culture of inquiry. Starting in July, there will be multiple contributors to this newsletter written by my friends. Some of these entries will be connected to live sessions via Zoom or in person, to which paid subscribers will have access.
The writings and inquiries will be highly experimental. For the first experiment, we will meet for three sessions on June 5, 12, and 19 @ 6 PM Eastern time, to engage in a collective inquiry to discuss the alivelihood question.
The Zoom link for this inquiry series is on the other side of this paywall.
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