Government People

In Defense of Few Words

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Michael Barrish wrote:

I’ve long believed that we each have a story, often unknown to us, that we try all our lives to prove true. As I see it, this is the key to understanding a lot of otherwise inexplicable behavior.

If I’m correct, what would your story be?

Note: It can usually be summarized in five words or less.

Note: This can be a scary question.

There is nothing new or magical about seeking truth within ourselves, or our interest in discovering why we do the things we do; self-help gurus have made towers of money understanding this drive for self awareness and capitalizing on it.

What does capture the interest and engage the mind with Michael’s posed question is trying to find a phrase of five words or less that can adequately describe something so complex. How can we sum up our lives in five words or less?

Easy. The answer is, we don’t.

Our lives are too rich and too varied to be easily summed up with so few words. However, we can seek to better understand what makes each of us “tick”, our underlying story as Michael describes it, and brevity strips away the non-essential verbage and forces us into a more honest assessment.

There is power in brevity.

Asked to tell a truth about ourselves we immediately seek to describe the causes of the truth and the core of the truth and we wrap it in apologies and explanations and regressions into our childhood, with many asides into events that have had impact on this truth. But we’re not describing the truth, only its environment. Stripping away the environment will either reveal the truth or…nothing.

Ultimately, if we can’t describe something of such profound importance in five words or less, perhaps we don’t truly understand what it is we’re describing.

We ask the thief: why do you steal?

The thief answers: I steal because in this society there are the rich and there are the poor, and the rich stay rich by keeping the poor, poor. I steal because I have basic human needs that aren’t met by a society that perpetuates a gap between those who have, and those who have not. I steal because I learned from watching my mother and watching my father that you have to steal and cheat and lie to make it in the world. I steal as a way of demanding my fair share in a society that prides itself on being rich.

We change our question but not our intent, and ask the thief: Why do you steal, in five words or less?

Thief: I steal to survive.

We ask the President, why should we invade Iraq?

The President answers: Because Saddam Hussein is an evil man who is an enemy of this country. He has weapons of mass destruction he’ll use against us direcctly, or give to terrorists to use against us. He terrorizes his own people and leads based on fear. He provides a haven and training camps for terrorits. He is a repressive dictator who must be stopped before he’s allowed to do more damage. We must stop him now before he has a chance to act against us in the future.

We then ask the President, why should we invade Iraq, in five words or less?

And the President answers: Because I can.

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