The most helpful and profound insights – in any area of life – are often quite simple can be expressed in a simple and clear language. So although this blog is not of the most profound or insightful ones, I was still happy to see that the readability of this blog is at the elementary school level.
There are several reasons to aim for a simple language.
It is more naked and reveals what it refers to more clearly. It is easier to see what it is about. The topics and insights are less hidden behind complex language or a particular lingo. (As Arne Næss said, if you can’t see to the bottom of a pond, it is not neccesarily because it is deep. It could just be muddy.)
It makes it available to more people. It doesn’t require an advanced reading level or vocabulary, and it does require as much familiarity with a specialized vocabularly. It is more democratic.
A complex language may require educated readers, or at least readers familiar with a particular lingo. And a simple language can express any level of insight and intelligence, and make it available to more readers.
It helps me clarify it for myself. If I use an overly complex language, it is often because I am not clear. So aiming for simplicity is an invitation to clarify it for myself.
And when I use a personal language, it is not only more easy to read, but more honest. I say what I mean, and don’t hide behind abstractions such as “we” and “one” or pretend I present abstract facts when it is always from a personal view.
In aiming for simplicity, I ask myself a few questions:
Am I clear? Am I as clear about it as I would like to be? If not, I take some time to clarify it for myself. Partly, through inquiry. And partly through outlines and drafts.
I am writing from my own immediate experience? From what is alive for me here now? If I don’t, it tends to get dry and convoluted. And when I do, it is usually more clear, juicy and direct.
Can it be expressed more simply? How can it be expressed more simply? How can it be expressed in most simple way? Can I find one simple sentence that captures its essence? And if there are more layers to it, can that too be expressed in a simple way?
If I express something in an unnecesarily complex way, what happens? What do I get out of it? Do I get to (think that I) appear more intelligent? More educated? Am I doing it to impress myself or others? To get appreciation or approval? To feel that I belong to a certain group? Do I get to exclude certain people from understanding what I write about?
It can also be helpful to take complex texts and reword them in a simple language without losing meaning. I can do it with my own texts, and also those of others. I find that certain blogs on Buddhism, psychology or integral approaches are especially fertile grond!
One of my favorite sites on this topic is The Plain English Campaign.
The story of simple is good can be taken as a practical guideline. One that is appropriate in some situations and not other. In general, it is helpful to use a language that is as simple as possible. And a technical vocabulary is fine when the audience is familiar with it. But neither of those can be applied to all situations.
Since I am obviously leaning towards simple language, it is good for me to ask myself a few questions.
What do I get out of using a simple language? I get to clarify the topics for myself. To connect and make it more available to others. Reveal more clearly where I am coming from. (And inherent in that, what I am not yet familiar with, and what my hangups are.) I make it simpler for myself.
What happens when I take the story of “simple is good” as true? There is a sense of having to protect that story and the identity that comes with it. I have to live up to it. I tend to want to see it applied in any situation. There is a sense of a fragile superiority. Tension. Stress. Lack of receptivity.
What happens if I don’t take it as true? I am free to use it as a guideline in some situations, when it seems helpful. And I am free to use other guidelines in other situations. I am more receptive to many different approches, and exploring when each one may be appropriate.
What is the grain of truth in the reversals of the initial story?
Simplicity is not good. (i) Yes, it can give me the impression of getting something that I don’t. Simple words makes it easier to grasp at the word level, even if I don’t get it otherwise. (ii) If it becomes a belief, I use it as a guideline in any situation, whether it is helpful or not. I act as if it is true even if it is not. I make myself right. (iii) It can be misunderstood. Any level of insight can be expressed in a simple way. But I can take simplicity as as refering to superficial or oversimplified views, and don’t go further in my exploration.
Complexity is good. (i) Yes, sometimes valuable insights and pointers are expressed in complex language. I am then free to rephrase it in simple language, and clarify it for myself in the process. (ii) As we get familiar with a new territory, a complex language may be all that is available for us. It is a starting point. (iii) It may give a boost to self-esteem, which can be useful sometimes. (iv) Some topics are inherently complex and can only be expressed in specialized language. Although here too, it can be expressed as simply and clearly as possible, and the essence of it can usually be expressed in a simple way. (v) In this context, a simple language really only means using everyday words and short sentences. Longer sentences can also be very clear, and if we are familiar with the terminology, then no problem there either.