keeping it simple

Written by  rabbi michael schiffman

art-newstruckMy 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.

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