KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid

By: Robert E. Meyer

Well, it happened to me last night once again. I started talking to someone who has read one of my op-ed pieces or letters to the editor. Then they smiled and said, “I didn’t understand what you were talking about.” When I quiz them further on the matter, they claim that I don’t speak in the language of the common man–that I use too many fifty-cent words.

How many times in life have I been reminded of the principle “Keep it simple stupid,” or “Know your audience.” Apparently, I have failed this standard miserably. Many times I have said that it doesn’t matter if the proverbial chicken has good reasons for being afraid to cross the road. If the chicken has to get to the opposite side, the reasons for not going across are a moot point.

Likewise, I can’t sit on my mountain of hubris and complain that these people are just a bunch of ignorant dolts, so that I can ignore their observations. I can’t afford to do that anyway because they are the people I’m trying to reach–the same folks I’m trying to inspire to become fellow-laborers in the causes I cherish. So, like the chicken, I have to cross the road and be sure they comprehend what I’m saying.

However, I am concerned for them more than I am chagrined by their comments. Why you ask? Well, I’m no intellectual superman. I remember in the second grade, when I had to attend summer school and a remedial reading class because I was so far behind everyone else. I was too stupid to know how bad off I was at the time. I still see myself through that lens, and my poor reading abilities to this day are a humble reminder of where I came from.

Certain things happened as I matured. In my teens, I met a man who is now deceased, but when living, was a friend to me, while teaching me about the pursuit of excellence as a life expectation. During my time in the military, I worked with a guy who used to bring a dictionary to work and underline words he wanted to establish into his normal vocabulary. I knew another guy who offerd Christian leadership training, and had all sorts of seminars for personal development. In recent years, I have come to know a man who is a local historian, and we have great conversation and fellowship. Yet another fellow has breakfast with me on occasion, and we discuss how our faith and ideology applies to current events. The point is, I respected all these men, and I appreciated that they were interested in different facets of self-improvement. I gained knowledge, wisdom and insight from these experiences, and yet, who am I?

And therein lies the problem. I doubt that I have any more intellectual capacity then most of the people who say they don’t understand what I’m saying. I read my own columns, and later locate poor grammar and typographical errors that are embarrassing to me. In fact, some readers E-mail just to tell me about my bloopers. I usually reply by telling them that he who proofreads his own work has an illiterate for a editor. When I read an author’s article, I frequently need to look up words. All these imperfections make me wonder how I can possibly be on a plane above so many people?

The interesting thing is that sometimes when people claim not to understand what I am saying, they begin arguing against the points I made. So the question becomes, “How do you argue against something you don’t understand?” It may well be that “I don’t understand” is a euphemism for “I disagree.” Often these people are acquaintences or family members.

Alright, I concede that I need to make some modifications in my methods. But I’m not in a vacuum. There are other forces at labor here. I believe that some people just have a distain or inertia against self-improvement. They have the idea that if they don’t know something, then it can’t be important. They aren’t motivated to learn something new—to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zone. I see it as my duty to do those things—to maximize my god-given abilities, and admit it when my lack of diligent effort is the problem. My mentors have taught me these things, so don’t I have a right to expect the same reasonable effort from others?

What teacher tolerates poor work on the grounds that the student would have to try harder than ever before? How does an elementary teacher take a group of fourth-grade kids who have “summered over”, and bring them to a fifth grade level of accomplishment? Presumably through the introduction of new and more advanced material. I recently heard that most people add few words to their vocabulary after the age of 25. What makes people think that when formalized education ends, be it high school, college or graduate school, that it is no longer a duty to learn? That is a disgrace! The tradition of my faith tells me that education is an important pursuit. The Puritans who settled this land weren’t mere religious fanatics, but highly educated, industrious and literate people. With so many caricatures abounding about slack-jawed, back woods fundamentalists, it is surprising that so many Christians want to oblige the people who clutch onto these stereotypes.

The “dumbing down of America,” isn’t just about declining scores on benchmark achievement exams, but a degradation in necessity of self-improvement. Or maybe I’m just stewing about my conversation with that guy. What say you?

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