Define your terms

John A. Toomey was my ancient history professor at Bard College. He assigned a paper every week. Most of his students thought that was a lot, but as a writer, I didn’t mind, and as someone who was learning to think, it was invaluable. One of the things he pounded into his students was this: Define your terms These days, we casually …

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Is using jargon really all that bad?

Jargon is everywhere.  We all use it. In and of itself, jargon isn’t necessarily bad.  But it can go horribly wrong.  We’ve all seen websites that read as if they were assembled from a grab-bag of catch-phrases, clichés, and other jargon-y expressions.  And I’d be willing to bet that we’ve all experienced moments where we felt safer hiding behind jargon instead of putting our …

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How to use symbols to create clarity and understanding

“Do you really believe in that sort of thing?”  my friend asked, looking at me with an odd expression. I’d just told her about a gift I’d bought for myself:  a tarot reading by someone who consistently gets rave reviews from people whose opinions I trust and value.  And I could tell she was trying not to offend me with her opinion of …

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Sandwiches or salad? Goals matter!

At a party earlier this week, the hostess handed me a cutting board, knife, and a half-dozen tomatoes to be sliced.  “What,” I asked, “is the goal?” She laughed at me. “Sandwiches!” I asked for a good reason, no matter how funny it might have sounded.  If she’d said, “Salad!” I would have cut the tomatoes in different shapes than I …

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The potential cost of poor communication

I got an email from American Express on Thursday.  Seems my account had been compromised and there were fraudulent charges on my card. Theft, in other words. But this isn’t a story about theft, or even about my overwhelming curiosity about how in the world did they know those charges aren’t mine?  (Kind of creepy, really, even though it’s nice that they do know.) In …

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The Runaway Explanation

This post originally appeared in my newsletter. You know that thing that happens when you want to ask for something, but you’re not sure you’re going to get it – or even that you’re really entitled to it?  Do you find yourself going to great lengths explaining why you should have it, why it’s the right thing to do, or …

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