There was a time when I judged the character of others by the number of times they would use terms like existential, nihilism, fatalism, and the like. Often, the words of Einstein echoes in my head reminding me that if I can’t explain it simply enough, it’s because I don’t understand it well enough. And that’s how I viewed those pretentious ones that used large words to explain simple concepts of hope, struggle, or despair.
One of my challenges in life has been my inability to articulate my thoughts in ways that made it relatable to others. From a young age I was recognised as the kid on a different wavelength. I was the one the bullies generally ignored because my response was unpredictable, while they picked on the ones that were somewhat ordinary, because ordinary, for all its merits, is predictable.
Without any fanfare or deliberate effort, I found myself trying to polish my grasp of the English language so that my thoughts would tumble out of my mouth or keyboard with at least a vague similarity to what was going on in my head. The more coherent I sounded, the more confident I grew, and seemingly, the more I found that people were willing to interact with me. I guess people generally do avoid the unpredictable or misunderstood.
The buoyancy I felt from these simple little milestones of inclusion pushed me to hone my skills further. My innate need to simplify a complicated life contributed to this by driving me towards reducing the effort needed to achieve simple outcomes. After all, why do in ten steps what can be done in two? It would be such a waste of energy to continue the ten step way.
Equally so, I found myself growing more succinct, or as some would assume, terse in the way in which I expressed myself. To me, I was improving my skill for clear communication without being flowery or longwinded about it, but for everyone else, I was cocky and presumptuous because I apparently didn’t have the patience to work through things with them or explain myself properly. What I saw as saving them the monotony of a longwinded explanation, they saw as an arrogance on my part for assuming that they’re not worthy of such an explanation. Or worse, they assumed that I found joy in making them look stupid.
And that’s how I’ve found efforts at effective communication can become defective communication. An innocent assumption on my part which suggested that others had a similar level of understanding or appreciation of the topic at hand, meant that I didn’t see my knowledge as superior. However, that was automatically misconstrued by others as me being arrogant and aloof. Of course, every assumption we make, correct or incorrect, is a reflection of how we view ourselves relative to what is going on around us, but that was hardly an effective point to make in such a situation. Although I did make it from time to time, depending on how keen I was to annoy the audience I was with.
The point is, it’s easy to be distracted by our pursuit of perfection in any field that we’re passionate about, to the point where the purpose of the pursuit is forgotten, and all that remains is our sights on perfection. Most often, we seek to perfect in order to be more effective at achieving something, but along the way we become distracted by how our perfection is perceived and lose sight of what we set out to achieve in the first place.
When that happens, perfectionism takes centre stage and purpose or meaning becomes a secondary consideration. I think it’s possible to achieve perfection relative to purpose, although true perfection is unattainable. There is merit and virtue in pursuing perfection, but both are undermined when the purpose or value of such efforts are discarded in favour of being perceived as perfect in that regard. Our efforts, if left unchecked, will result in us allowing our proficiency of practice at what we’re pursuing to define us, rather than remembering that our proficiency was intended to enable us to define something else in a more valuable way.
Life is lost in moments of distraction, but we grow distracted in moments of pursuing a better life. Being surrounded by a social standard grounded in escapism doesn’t help either. And labeling people that use big words without appreciating why they choose to communicate the way they do reflects a superficiality and insecurity on our part, more than it does on theirs.