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How Hedging Hurts Our Writing, Being Unafraid to Feel, Managing Lower Level Priorities

Source: The internet has made defensive writers of us all
Description: How hedging hurts our writing


Many writers hedge their words by adding a bunch of qualifying remarks in order to avoid uncharitable interpretations from critics. This not only fails to work — an uncharitable reader will find a way to misinterpret you no mater how you express youeself — but it also takes the personality, style, and flair out of your writing.

If you’re making a statement that has great consequence and there’s a statistical likelihood you’ll be misunderstood, it’s good and responsible to add precision. But don’t add precision when you don’t sincerely believe it’s needed merely because you’re afraid of mean-spirited comments.


On the perils of hedging:

“Writers use hedges in the vain hope that it will get them off the hook, or at least allow them to plead guilty to a lesser charge, should a critic ever try to prove them wrong. A classic writer, in contrast, counts on the common sense and ordinary charity of his readers, just as in everyday conversation we know when a speaker means in general or all else being equal. If someone tells you that Liz wants to move out of Seattle because it’s a rainy city, you don’t interpret him as claiming that it rains there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, just because he didn’t qualify his statement with relatively rainy or somewhat rainy. Any adversary who is intellectually unscrupulous enough to give the least charitable reading to an unhedged statement will find an opening to attack the writer in a thicket of hedged ones anyway.” -Steven Pinker

On how the web has made us defensive:

“I think the web has made us all write more defensively, and it’s a shame, because we’re effectively contorting our communication style to defend against a small minority of mean-spirited and uncharitable actions by some.” -Paul Chiusano

On how defensiveness hinders learning:

“The defensive writing style also encourages another sort of ugliness, which is that “avoiding saying something wrong” becomes a primary focus of the writing, rather than communicating or exploring ideas which the author might himself be unsure of. It encourages a tendency to be attached to ideas and defend them against attackers, rather than letting ideas exist separate from ourselves as they should. I can recall many occasions where I find myself in a position of defending or arguing for an idea I don’t necessarily feel strongly about, but feel compelled to reply to someone giving the idea such dismissive treatment.” -Paul Chiusano

On when to hedge:

“Sometimes a writer has no choice but to hedge a statement. Better still, the writer can qualify the statement—that is, spell out the circumstances in which it does not hold rather than leaving himself an escape hatch or being coy as to whether he really means it. If there is a reasonable chance that readers will misinterpret a statistical tendency as an absolute law, a responsible writer will anticipate the oversight and qualify the generalization accordingly. Pronouncements like “Democracies don’t fight wars,” “Men are better than women at geometry problems,” and “Eating broccoli prevents cancer” do not do justice to the reality that those phenomena consist at most of small differences in the means of two overlapping bell curves. Since there are serious consequences to misinterpreting those statements as absolute laws, a responsible writer should insert a qualifier like on average or all things being equal, together with slightly or somewhat. Best of all is to convey the magnitude of the effect and the degree of certainty explicitly, in unhedged statements such as “During the 20th century, democracies were half as likely to go to war with one another as autocracies were.” It’s not that good writers never hedge their claims. It’s that their hedging is a choice, not a tic.” –Paul Chiusano

Resource: The Courage to Be Yourself: E.E. Cummings on Art, Life, and Being Unafraid to Feel
Description: Advice from E.E. Cummings on being true to one’s self


You are most truly yourself when you feel. When you think or talk, you’re drawing your thoughts and words from many sources. You’re expressing a mashup of something you’ve internalized from society. When you feel, however, those feelings are all yours. You are being nobody but yourself when you feel.

Being nobody but yourself is the hardest work there is. If you choose this path, you must be prepared to fight. If you don’t want to fight, take the easy way out and be who someone else wants you to be. That’s a terrible life, but at least you don’t have to fight.


On loyalty to one’s own solitude as the path to self-knowledge:

“The true and durable path into and through experience involves being true … to your own solitude, true to your own secret knowledge.” -Seamus Heaney

On the uniqueness of how our generation’s feedback mechanisms for ideas:

“Every generation believes that it must battle unprecedented pressures of conformity; that it must fight harder than any previous generation to protect that secret knowledge from which our integrity of selfhood springs. Some of this belief stems from the habitual conceit of a culture blinded by its own presentism bias, ignorant of the past’s contextual analogues. But much of it in the century and a half since Nietzsche, and especially in the years since Heaney, is an accurate reflection of the conditions we have created and continually reinforce in our present informational ecosystem — a Pavlovian system of constant feedback, in which the easiest and commonest opinions are most readily rewarded, and dissenting voices are most readily punished by the unthinking mob.” -Maria Popova

On E.E. Cummings’ refusal to be rule by fear:

“Cummings despised fear, and his life was lived in defiance of all who ruled by it.” -Susan Cheever

“On how we are most our selves when we feel:

“Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.” -E.E. Cummings

On the hardest battle everyone fights:

“To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” -E.E. Cummings

How the life of an artist/poet is the hardest work there is:

“And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world — unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die. Does that sound dismal? It isn’t. It’s the most wonderful life on earth. Or so I feel.”

Resource: Getting Things Done
Description: Managing lower level priorities first


The best place to start with organization is with what’s already on your mind. You can’t be clear about the big picture things if you’re overwhelmed and distracted about a bunch of little day to day details.

If something is on your mind, it’s on your mind. It doesn’t matter if you believe it shouldn’t be on your mind. If it’s there to be dealt with, deal with it.


“There is magic in being in the present in your life. I’m always amazed at the power of clear observation simply about what’s going on, what’s true. Finding out the exact details of your personal finances, clarifying the historical data about the company you’re buying, or getting the facts about who really said what to whom in an interpersonal conflict can be constructive, if not absolutely necessary and downright healing. ”

“Getting things done, and feeling good about it, means being willing to recognize, acknowledge, and appropriately engage with all the things within the ecosystem of your consciousness. Mastering the art of stress-free productivity requires it. ”

“Trying to manage from the top down when the bottom is out of control may be the least effective approach. ”

“Handle what has your attention and you’ll then discover what really has your attention. ”

I have learned over the years that the most important thing to deal with is whatever is most on your mind. The fact that you think it shouldn’t be on your mind is irrelevant. It’s there, and it’s there for a reason. “Buy cat food” may certainly not rank high on some theoretical prioritizing inventory, but if that’s what’s pulling on you the most, in the moment, then handling it in some way would be Job One. Once you handle what has your attention, it frees you up to notice what really has your attention. Which, when you handle that, will allow you to see what really has your attention, and so on. Almost without exception the executives I have worked with are most plagued by the management of the nitty-gritty of their workaday world—e-mails, meetings, travel, projects going off the rails, etc. When they begin to get all that under control, their attention invariably turns to areas of focus and interest from a higher perspective—family, career, and quality-of-life stuff. So don’t worry about what horizon or what content of your life is the highest priority to deal with—deal with what’s present. When you do, you will more effectively uncover and address what’s really true and meaningful for you.* “

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