Why You Should Insist On Clarity

  • Editor's Note: If you are a big fan of the political rhetoric flying around the airwaves and the ether right now, you probably won't be interested in this post. Enjoy. As always, you can find all my blog posts from 2013 to the present on my website at http://stevemarshallassociates.com/steves-blog/

    He Said, She Said
    As of this morning, I am throwing down the gauntlet on political speeches. Enough! Why can't our would-be political leaders just be clear to inform us of where they stand, where they want to go, and what's holding us back from getting where we want to go as a nation if they are elected President? While Mr.Trump's vague promises at last week's convention, loaded with hate, anger, and division is entirely unacceptable to my POV, I am sad to say that Hillary's speech did not do much for me last night, either. According to the polls, Trump is ahead in popularity, which has put Clinton in a defensive posture, so she has made a strategic decision to appeal to a broad swath of the voting population with a watered down platform of cliche's and speaking points. Ugh.

    This Blog Is NOT About Politics!
    I only use current events as a backdrop for the subject of this post - clarity! I find it totally missing from not only the current political dialogue but almost everywhere else, too. When we do see or hear it, it stands out and is very refreshing. Listen to a TED Talk sometime - here are 5 of the very best - https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/239672, and then listen to everything else. A sad disparity will appear for you in how missing clarity is from our dialogue.

    Why Is Clarity Missing From Our Dialogue?
    I have a couple of thoughts for an answer to this question. One comes from my psychology background and the challenges of human engineering. That sounds like an oxymoron, but t'is true. Homo Sapiens are very complex beings, just like machines, but, at the same time they can be affected instantly by a piece of music, so they are equally as difficult to define for either an engineer or a composer. The group that spends the most amount of time studying these human engineering miracles are named "social scientists." Does that sound like an oxymoron? Well, it is, but you might be surprised to learn that the field of social science encompasses not only social workers and psychologists, but also lawyers, judges, physicians, and police officers.

    OK, Back to the Point!
    The lack of clarity in our verbal discourse traces its roots back to the individuality of perception and our life "scripts." Much like an auditioning actor, we are given our first scripts at birth by the first "directors" for our lives - our parents. Those scripts, and others developed as we matriculate through this journey called life, influence our day-to-day lives to such a degree that they eventually form fixed "stories" that we apply to a broad range of situations. To make it more interesting, all of us have developed different scripts and different stories, which we tend to project onto other people. Another way of looking at this is that we tend to project stereotypes of behavior onto people that we observe, based on our own biases and within the social context of a given situation. In other words - when we see someone doing something - we tend to think it relates to their personality rather than the situation the person might be in. This is called fundamental attribution error.

    Let's Make it More Complicated to Make it More Simple
    Since we now have an oversimplified understanding of human engineering, let's bring "clarity" and our "stories" together with "common sense." What does common sense have to do with all of this? Everything, it would appear. Three centuries ago, Voltaire proclaimed, "Common sense is not so common." As it turns out, common sense is exquisitely adapted to handling the kind of complexity that arises in everyday situations, such as how to behave at work versus in front of your children versus in a bar with your friends. And because it works so well in these situations, we’re inclined to trust it.

    But situations involving corporations, cultures, markets, nations, and politics exhibit a very different kind of complexity. Large-scale social problems necessarily involve anticipating or managing the behavior of many individuals in diverse contexts over extended periods of time. Under these circumstances, the ability that we call common sense to rationalize equally one behavior and also its opposite causes us to commit all manner of prediction errors.

    Yet because of the way we learn from experiences and our "scripts" and our "stories" – even ones that are never repeated – the failings of common sense reasoning are rarely apparent to us. Rather, they manifest just as “things we didn’t know at the time” but which seem obvious to us as Monday Morning Quarterbacks.

    As we now understand why common sense is an oxymoron, then, even as it helps us make sense of the world, it can also actively undermine our ability to understand it.

    Bringing it All Together
    With all of the above going on every minute of our everyday life, is it any wonder why clarity is so hard to achieve and why it is such a precious and scarce commodity? But, yet, it exists. There are some people, despite all hindrances that have been placed upon them by life, their upbringing, their environment, and their predisposition toward listening to their own stories, can break through and achieve clarity in communication, expectation, and understanding. In the last 100 years, these people would include Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Ronald Reagan, and most recently, Barack Obama. And that type of speaker and the clarity (and common sense) of their messages is what is missing from the current political dialogue we are all subjected to and will be subjected to for the next 100 days until November 8 when we elect one of two people that still don't understand clarity.

    Next Week: There is Sound Thinking and Then There's Thinking That Sounds Good!