During my school days, I was fortunate to have excellent English teachers. Under their tutelage, I developed a reasonable command over the English language. My ability to put words on paper was not a right, but a responsibly. And I did not exercise this responsibility on some occasions. During exams in subjects other than English where I was required to write essays, whenever I would not know the subject material, I would write something that I guessed was close to the expected answer and I would write a couple of paragraphs which were nothing but drivel. The idea was to give the impression that I knew something about the question – if not, how could I write so much? The unsuspecting teacher would notice that I had started the answer reasonably, they would see the amount of answer I’d written, and after taking a cursory look at the rest of the paragraphs, depending on their mood on the given day, they would give me a below average, average or above average score.
Now, I’m not against creatively and legitimately exploring a line of answer. I’m against the deliberate attempt of knowingly writing nonsense in an attempt to farm some marks from the teacher. The worst part of all this was I was proud of myself for employing this skill of knowingly writing gibberish and scoring some marks in the process.
When I went to the US to study, one of the first classes I took was English 101. We were to write 6 papers for the class – and that was it – no exams. And the class was semi-mathematical – the papers had a structure that we had to follow. In the first three papers, I got ‘B’ grades. But the important lesson that I learned was that the instructor would repeatedly mark in my paper “How do you justify the argument that you’ve made?”. If I made any statement, any claim, any argument, it was my job to provide sufficient proof/evidence to justify it. If I wrote anything that I could not justify, I got called out for doing so.
In the very first job interview I attended for an internship position, my propensity to say things that sound good that I did not really mean, came to bite me. “I am a self-starter and a quick learner”, I proudly told my interviewer, who was also the head of the division that I was interviewing for. After all, isn’t the kind of things that interviewees are supposed to say? “How are you a self-starter?” he countered. “What techniques and approaches do you follow that help you learn quickly?”. “Er…” I mumbled something incoherently, and both he and I knew that this was the end of the interview. I interviewed for another division in the company, and it appears that I was a quick learner after all, for I did not mention that I was a quick learner, and the interviews went quite well, and I did land the internship.
Now, my practice of writing gibberish with the intent to confuse – why is it harmful, apart from the fact that I didn’t know the correct answer to the question? Upon reflection, here is my answer: It causes me to take my words lightly. Because I know that I write nonsense from time to time, I subconsciously don’t respect my writing enough. And the obfuscating tactics that I used take me farther from truth and progress. The essays/papers I write for school/college are not going to serve me later. The only thing that will serve me is a good faith effort, which hones into a finely developed skill over time. If I deliberately write words to confuse, I am harming the honing process.
Bridge champion Steve Robinson often says “Make Every Card Count”, i.e. play every card seriously. Along these lines, I say “Make your words count” – it is worth it.
Image Credit: Dan Counsell from Unsplash