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On Blogging and… Preaching to the Choir

December 16, 2013

Do you remember your last class? Your teacher spoke and you began an understanding of a certain topic. You asked questions throughout and began to clarify things you were uncertain about. Eventually, you may be assigned questions and given a few pages of reading that accompanies the questions. You distill the reading in short, sharp answers, developing your ability in the area. Finally, you finish your questions, content for the hour. That is, you’re lucky enough to not have concerns like “Can I write an essay on this?”

That edifice of confidence is soon shattered. Can you explain the concept to a friend? How well can you explain it?

There are so many things that I know that I can’t explain. And even when I can explain it, there are questions as to the depth and clarity if my understanding of the subject. And of course, there’s always the poststructuralist critiques to add…

You see, when you first begin learning about something you struggle to merely comprehend it. Later, you understand things that are said to you. Finally, you begin to say it. You’ve gone through a process. The problem is, your teachers are so much further along than you are. Your elders have read thrice as much as you, dealt with the intellectuals of the past on a far closer than you have… they have done so much. They are repositories, not ‘suppositories’ (as Mr. Abbott once said) , of wisdom.

This is all to say, I sometimes get extremely dismayed when explaining things. It’s actually a torturous process at certain times. You feel so… inadequate.

You read many articles a day. You get a take home message if you thought the article was interesting. You might be able to speak for a minute on the matter presented to you. Your author took hours. Your author went the laborious process to give you an impression. Your form these ideas about subjects. After time the details fade – they’re unimportant next to the idea you have, the view you hold.

The problem is, others need that detail to learn. Let me quote Inheritance by Christopher Paolini for a nice excerpt:

Interacting with these elders was confusing and unsettling; they made jumps, associations, and comparisons that seemed meaningless but that Eragon knew made sense at some deep level. He was rarely able to figure out what they were trying to say, and the ancient dragons did not deign to explain themselves in terms that he could understand.

 

After a while, he realised that they couldn’t express themselves in any other way. Over the centuries, their minds had changed; what was simple and straightforward for him often seemed complicated for them, and the same was true in reverse.

Reconstructing that learning process is an immense challenge. I talked of meaningful ends last week. That vague post I had was my attempt to convey a profound insight that is the evolution of many of my thoughts for, in some rare cases, many years. To convey these ‘profound truths’ requires so many clarifications, specifications, little details… We learn and become ever more knowledgeable and then have the issue of distilling that knowledge, but problems arise when we must explain that distillation!

That’s why blogging is a perennial challenge. How do I convey something that means something? How do I clearly lay out a discrete, understandable idea? How do I avoid stupidly vague fluff? That’s the challenge. That’s why I plan to post regularly, once a week if possible.

Another issue with all this is that you stunt yourself in your own development. If I explain what I know for my entire life, what more will I learn? Now, I do believe in foundational principles, but it’s always good to better oneself. And of course, teaching is one way to quickly improve your own understanding… with a caveat – Feymann techniques only work when you’re specific. If it’s too broad a topic – as I have a penchant to choose – then your explanations can be of a sufficient length while glossing over many things. You’re not crystallising your understanding.

All this is to say, I’m back to my pretentious verbosity, and you get to hear from me on a weekly basis. Don’t you just love how sarcasm translates online?

My friends, go further your understanding, and respect those who teach you.

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