Okay, this tale isn’t about two sponges; it’s about a whole bunch of sponges. And the sponges aren’t from the city; they’re regular old kitchen sponges from the local supermarket. And this isn’t a classic piece of fiction, it’s a plain old true story. I just couldn’t resist amusing myself; I try to do that every so often (I’m peculiar that way).
A long, long time ago in a city far away in the North…I was young and worked for the Federal Government. Sounds like either a fairytale or a horror story, but I swear, this is true and it happened to me.
I was taking a class in Communication; the Government likes to think that it provides excellent training for its employees, and they dream up these training sessions and send you to them every so often, just for fun and giggles.
One of the more endearing aspects of these training sessions was the rooms in which they were held. They were filled with tables shaped like this:
Now, maybe you know the name of this shape and maybe you don’t; be assured that I do, but I’m not going to use that name just yet because that’s part of the story and part of the fun. So just bite your tongue and put your hand down, Horshack.
The Instructor wanted to conduct an exercise and asked for two volunteers. I’m one of those people who despises a void and, when no one else volunteered, I filled it, of course; and dragged my tablemate with me. Now, this was the beginning of my Government career and I was still in a lowly administrator, albeit one with a fancy title (Program Administrator), as was my unwilling partner. You’ll see why this is important as the tale unwinds.
The Instructor put two of the tables in front of the class like this:
The Instructor seated us between the two tables with our backs to each other, one at each table. She (the Instructor and being female), then gave me a stack of Sponges. The task was to place the Sponges on my table and have my partner reproduce the position of the Sponges on her table (my partner, being female), using on my verbal descriptions only. Uh huh.
So I said, slowly and as best I can remember, “Place a Sponge in the upper right hand corner, place another Sponge directly below it. Place a Sponge in the upper left hand corner, place a Sponge right on top of it. Place a Sponge right in the middle. Place two Sponges, standing on their longest edges and leaning against each other, in the lower left hand corner. Place the last Sponge in the lower right hand corner.”
My partner, with the exception of precise orientation, copied my placements exactly. The Instructor was pleased.
The Instructor then asked specifically for two engineers to repeat the exercise and there were suddenly no lack of volunteers; soon two men were comfortably sitting back to back.
The one given the Sponges began, in a rapid and non-stop discourse, “Assume that the isosceles trapezoid in front of you is an exact duplication of the one in front of me, meaning of course that the two opposite sides are parallel and that the two other sides are of equal length. With your left hand, take one deceased poriferans in the color puce and place it equidistant from the corner located in the northeast quadrant of the trapezoid such that it is exactly a half inch from the side that is parallel. Next, select four miscellaneous poriferans and create a rhombus utilizing the diminutive ends for support.”
It went on from there in the same vein, but the listener at his back had already been lost and thrown up his hands in disgust as he could not distinguish which of the Sponges was the color puce (in fact there was no brownish-purple Sponge, as the speaker believed puce to be the color green and the listener didn’t know what color puce was at all!), nor could the listener correlate which of his corners would be the mirror image of the speaker’s northeast corner (not knowing the compass directions of the windowless room).
Rest assured that the rest the speaker’s instructions were equally as complicated and undecipherable.
So how were two mere Program Administrators able to complete a task that two highly educated and much more highly paid Engineers could not?
Why, that is the moral of my story. KISS! Keep it simple, stupid!
I have probably told this story more times than the number of years I have lived because I “grew up” to teach and train engineers and scientists in the art of clear and unambiguous technical writing. This story was brought to mind again because, although it has been over a year since I have had to deal with the over-inflated egos of the highly educated who feel compelled to use complicated language to make their knowledge seem mystifying and confusing to the “outsiders,” I have learned that the Federal Government doesn’t have a patent on growing egos of this size. I met one just the other day.
Meeting one of these beings unprepared is like having to work with two people who speak both English and Swahili while everyone else in the office speaks both English and Spanish, but they persist in peppering their English with Swahili and they do it to alienate and feel superior to their co-workers and then feint surprise when it is brought to their attention that it is causing a communication problem. They purposely will not Keep It Simple and speak in the commonly spoken language.
The colossal ego that I met adores the term “interstice.” Not a word you hear used every day; one I used to hear quite a lot, though (so I was quite prepared). It means, literally, “a small opening or space between objects.” The way the colossal ego uses this term is when he wants to respond to someone’s blog or bulletin. What he DOES is copy what you have written and, in between your comments or paragraphs (those small, blank spaces), he inserts his own comments (placing only the symbols “~~” to distinguish his comments from yours). Then he gives you “a polite heads-up” that he has responded “interstitially” to your publication because this is a lawful method that he prefers. You probably just heard a bunch of Swahili and if you look at his post, it sure looks like YOUR post and it sure looks like you miraculously changed your mind about some things you don’t remember changing your mind about! Oh yes, if you read it VERY carefully, you will see that the comments are “interstitial” comments and a discerning reader will see that they are not your comments at all, but the damage has been done.
If it looks like your post and it smells like your post, it must be your post and, unfortunately, the greater percentage of readers will think it is still your post. Legal or not, it still stinks.
I propose all giant egos learn some new Swahili, “redact.” Better yet, learn to create a link to other people’s posts. And keep it simple, stupid (KISS).
If you want to check out my debates with the colossal ego, click here.
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