It’s often a good thing for there to be some people who hold extreme viewpoints.
In the technology world, we need people like Richard Stallman to talk about how free (libre, not gratis) software is necessary for a society to thrive, while most people would ordinarily not really care about what software they were using. In the finance world, we need zealots like Dave Ramsey, whose message is very simple and easy to understand. In politics, we need extreme candidates to make sure that the more mainstream candidates are pulled in that direction.
The question is whether a message that’s not extreme can be heard. Since I’m not really an extremist.
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Extreme stances are usually simple. “This = good, that = bad.” See most talk radio for examples of this. The best thing about these messages is that they are easy to convey. “That = bad” takes the form of a single sentence, without even a compound phrase necessary. There’s no ambiguity to be found.
And an easy-to-convey message has no room for nuance. In the same way that an elevator pitch is designed to convey your message in a long as it takes to ride an elevator with someone, by the time you’ve added in nuance, the person has left the elevator.
The problem with a simple message is that it’s usually incomplete, and sometimes just inadequate. Real life doesn’t fit into boxes, and some ideas aren’t easily made pithy without becoming so vague as to be almost meaningless.
To take one example, if you’re in the Dave Ramsey camp, you’ll say “credit cards are evil!” No nuance there. It’s certainly easy to remember.
But then you dig in and realize that it’s not always so simple. Credit cards are most often an instrument financial servitude, but:
- While I don’t think anyone should worry about their credit score, I think that having a score of zero may cause you more problems than its worth (since even some landlords will run your credit, and moral superiority won’t get you an apartment).
- While I think that putting everyday spending on a credit card is a bad financial plan, I’m much more okay with finding a card that gives you some kind of annual benefit, and then leaving that card in your drawer. (After all, you can’t overspend on a card you don’t use.)
- Granted, credit cards are like alcohol, in that some people can handle them and some can’t, but I don’t think total abstinence is necessary, so long as it’s not an integral part of your financial plan.
So you see, once you add nuance to a view, it loses its pith. And that makes the message harder to convey.
But the truth is, I think it’s better to embrace life’s complexity, even if the nuance cuts into the message’s effectiveness.
Perhaps that makes me a less effective messenger for the ideas I believe in so strongly, but I’d still rather be a champion for embracing ideas that may not be so straightforward. I think that will make us all more prepared and ready to do our ultimate work here, sticking it to The Man.
On second thought, that one does sound rather pithy.