Keep It Simple ……

My dad was a blue-collar worker.  Having a handicap, he was not able to pursue the academic dreams he had as a young man.  He delivered newspapers for the New York Post.  It was a good, job, and he provided well for our family.  Once, he told me that he and my mother went to a party where there was someone else who did the same work as my father.  My mom overheard the man saying he was a “circulation engineer.”  My parents laughed because the guy delivered newspapers for a living.

People are always trying to make themselves look better than they are.  On one hand, they are trying to put themselves in the best possible light, which no one can blame them for.  On the other hand, it’s no more than being pretentious, and trying to make yourself seem better than you are.

My father worked hard his whole life.  He hated his job, but he did it to provide for his family.  He was honorable and I respect him, and look up to him. I went on to earn advanced degrees, for which my father paid the expenses, but I aspired to be like my father.  He conducted himself with honor and has lived an honest, good life.   He is everything I want to be.

I have friends who are well-educated, and have good minds, and have no trouble expressing their ideas, but they have trouble communicating them.  It’s not that they don’t have the words to express what they are trying to say, but that they use such big words, no one understands what they are saying.  They use ten-dollar words to express two dollar concepts.  When someone does that, from my way of thinking, they are being pretentious.  They claim they are just using bigger words to “educate” people, but I don’t buy it.  The reality is, they are sacrificing precise communication for the sake of looking better.

I am quite comfortable reading doctoral level articles, but if I want people to understand what I am saying, I need to speak on their level.  When I teach, I imagine myself explaining the concepts to my dad.  My dad is a pretty intelligent guy, more intelligent than some PhD’s I know.  I don’t speak as to people with lower intelligence, just a lower education level.  People appreciate what I have to say because I make it easy for them to understand.

It takes more creativity to communicate ten-dollar concepts with two dollar words than the reverse.  The way we express ourselves to others can either tell people what we want them to think of us, or it can tell people we care enough about them to relate to where they are.

Mark Twain, one of America’s greatest writers, wrote in simple, down to earth words.  The Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin, did the same.  People relate to people who speak their language.

Yeshua spoke in parables; stories that relayed the human condition in every day word pictures.  He communicated with people.  It was an act of love.  He chose not to engage the people in the more “educated” manner of his contemporaries, but rather in a manner more identifiable with the common folk.  He spoke to people’s hearts, and changed the lives of countless generations of people.

Profundity is rarely expressed in complicated terms.  It usually is expressed in simplicity.  The only ones who miss the point, are the ones looking for bigger words.


16 thoughts on “Keep It Simple ……

  1. There is merit in what you say if you are only concerned about the mass communication angle of presentation. However, it also allows language to be watered down to the point of significantly increasing the number of syllables needed to communicate concepts. The progression leads to more verbiage with less clarity. Minds become overtaxed just trying to parse sentence and paragraph structure in order to connect the ideas. Repetition becomes necessary, adding still more syllables. Many people should not attempt to learn quantum physics, and no one should attempt to teach that subject to the least common denominator, either. The first consideration of public speaking is proper audience assessment, but I suggest leaving room for words that replace phrases even at the cost of sending some listeners to a dictionary. Don’t dumb down if you can smarten up. IMHO, of course–YMMV.

      • “Speaking in such a way that you can’t communicate is pretty dumb IMHO.”

        Obviously. One-on-one is great–no need for a formal quality survey at the conclusion unless interaction is forbidden. One-on-one-thousand is different. Which is better, to take two hours and reach all minds (except the ones that get bored and opt for another session) or take one hour and reach all but the bottom X%? Maybe the survey results will help you better develop your next session, but it’s too late for the one surveyed.

      • if you are speaking about technical language to a specific audience, that is one thing. If you are talking about communicating ideas to a great deal of people, that’s another thing. The fact that you refer to people as the “bottom’ x% says a great deal about what I was talking about. Sorry I just don’t buy it. If you disrespect people because they can’t handle your technical language, you will never be a great communicator. Technical language has its place, but if you could communicate the same ideas more simply, you would be more effective. It takes greater skill to communicate complexity in simpler terms.

      • I guess I’m uneducated in thinking technical communication was never indicated to be outside of the context of your article. “Ideas” are different, huh? Ideas like socialism, communism, and capitalism, for example? Except all the freshmen you were planning to communicate with about these ideas have never heard of them before (well, they have, they just don’t remember). Or economics, for that matter.

        “The way we express ourselves to others can either tell people what we want them to think of us, or it can tell people we care enough about them to relate to where they are.”

        I really hope I’m relating to where you are. What about the possibility that I have a job I am being paid to do: transfer knowledge to a heterogeneous group of people paying my employer to receive said knowledge. I have 60 minutes to cover a busy syllabus because this environment seriously believes time is money. If I spend ten minutes coddling X% of the group who are inadequately prepared to receive the information being transferred, then 100-X% only get 50 minutes. If that ten minutes means I do not cover the full syllabus, then 100% of my listeners are short-changed and my supervisor is less than thrilled with my communication. Please note this does not have to be “technical” knowledge transfer, merely knowledge for which adequate educational preparation is reasonable.

        Perhaps you have never communicated under such constraints. But do you accept it as a valid consideration? If so, what do you mean by saying my point about that X% “says a great deal” about what you were communicating? And, if you accept it as valid, why are you judging the motivations of the communicator in so binary a manner?

        I believe simplification is primarily a teaching aid. Later, it turns out the matter isn’t really as simple as it was presented to be, I strive to label simplifications as such.

        Quality survey: Please rate the writer from personal your point of view by choosing a number between one and five, where 1=Incomprehensible obfuscation and 5=speaking plainly, and thank you for your feedback.

        Have a nice day. 🙂

      • You are presuming an academic environment. I am presuming a real world environment. Recognize the difference, and drop the sarcasm. There is no need for it.

      • “You are presuming an academic environment. I am presuming a real world environment. Recognize the difference, and drop the sarcasm. There is no need for it.”

        So you have been presuming from the get-go a “real world” environment without “technical” subject matter, only “ideas,” and *I* am failing to recognize the “difference?” I submit your communication skills are somewhat less vaunted than you have advertised them to be. I’ll not only drop the sarcasm, I’ll drop the music lesson with a full refund–I know a CWOT when I encounter one.

      • You started your comments with a chip on your shoulder, and have continued with attitude. I know what you are as well. Have a nice life.

      • I suggest you run what you “know” about me by our mutual friends and resolve any discrepancies that might be revealed. I pray your life will be exceedingly abundantly blessed, as well.

      • I’m not saying you are a bad person in any way. I don’t know you to presume such a thing. I was referring to the way your comments came across to me. Maybe I’m too stupid to understand you, but maybe you were coming across with attitude you didn’t intend

  2. For what it may or may not be worth, the idea of trying to express complex matters in such a way that they might be understood by those less educated and/or less intelligent reminds me of an old adage. “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time, and it annoys the pig.”


  3. Your post reminds me so much of Tim Russert, the late host of Meet The Press. His father was a garbage collector, and Tim’s goal for Meet The Press was always to put complicated political discussions out in a way that his Dad would understand. Certainly Tim was a well-educated man who could have used much fancier language, but his goal was to communicate well, not to strut his stuff. I appreciate that you do the same.

  4. I find it unfortunate, Rabbi, that some of the people, one in particular, who responded to this post, don’t know you personally. I have heard you speak to audiences from a few thousand down to one (me). I’m not particularly a genius, but I have NEVER had any trouble understanding anything you have had to say. Speaking in such a manner that all the hearers, from the bottom to the top, understand you and nobody feels insulted or confused, is both a science and an art. You have an impressive ability to do that, and you have my admiration.

    My comment about the pig was offered in an attempt at light hearted humor.


  5. Shalom Rabbi,

    This is my first time reading your blog and I found it very interesting. Yes, I am struggling in communicating complex ideas through the written medium in my new blog. It’s tough when you’re dealing with multiple languages…



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