Monday, May 9, 2016

The right words

By now, you know that I have missed out on learning all the important lessons of life or learned them all too late to be of any use to me. It will not surprise you, therefore, to hear that I missed out on understanding the importance of using the right words - jargon, as people love to call it.

I always had a misplaced idea that understanding a concept was all that was important. It never struck me that it is necessary to let people know how wise I was by also telling it in the appropriately impressive words. A lesson that I learned even later was that, more often than not, it was enough to know the words. There is no need to spend time learning the concepts; you are better off using that time to learn more words and sound even more impressive.

Of course, when it came to management, things were a bit easier. An education at IIM automatically equipped you to use impressive words. You never just plan an action, you evolve a strategy. You do not merely have an dream of what you want in the future, you have a vision (Too many of them - visions, I mean - and you could end up in a straitjacket).

They say there is a difference between information and knowledge. How true that is, I realized within a few days of joining what pleases the world to call a 'productive life' or, in other words, becoming a wage slave. I could only look on and wonder at my colleague, who was from finance like me, as he sits in on a new product 'strategy session' and said,"Could you guys not find a niche market for this?" He later admitted that he would not recognize a niche market for the product, even if it bit a hole in his ear, but asked me in obviously genuine surprise, "But what has THAT got to do with it?" Naturally! Not everyone is as stupid as me to not know that the easiest way to appear wise is to throw in this jargon, when you are sure you cannot be saddled with the implementation of your suggestions. Which accounts for why the finance guys are the most impressive performers in what is primarily a discussion of marketing strategy, whereas the marketing guys really come into their own when you are discussing how to source funds.

I try to get my importance by joining in on philosophical debates - after all, I could never be saddled with implementation here as long as I stoutly refuse to contest any elections (AND, yes, I would bow to popular opinion here and accept that anyone who voted me dog-catcher must have a special soft corner for stray dogs). A few days down the line, I had learned that nothing in the world is simple. Mukesh does not fail his exams because he had the mistaken impression that yapping on Whatsapp all night was great preparation for Physics and sharing selfies was the way forward to crack Mathematics. No! He is the 'victim of a class struggle'; or, maybe, his failure is a prime example of the 'deteriorating standards of education and the undue emphasis on marks over learning'; or, if one wants to get closer to the real cause, 'the invidious and deleterious impact of modern technology and social media on the impressionable brains of our youth'.

Equipped with my new knowledge, I trotted that gem about 'victim of class struggle', when a boy in my neighborhood failed to get a seat in Engineering despite being a good student. Despite the fact that he was poor, and qualified for some sort of 'class struggle' comment, I got roundly panned and drummed out of the group for heretic attitudes. How was I to know that you can never be a victim of a class struggle when you are Brahmin, even if you were dirt-poor; that some things were heinous crimes against humanity and some others merely redress historical injustices; that some historical crimes are so horrendous that it is utterly wrong to even express sympathy for someone of that class for frivolous excuses like the fact that he wasn't even born when those crimes were committed? You may not need to know exactly what the underlying idea is but you certainly needed to know the rules of when the jargon can be applied, else you do get into trouble.

Anyway, that ended that brief attempt at becoming the next Socrates. Having started writing, the itch started to be known as wise at least in this area. The problem, though, is that I know the words - 'Show vs Tell', 'head-hopping' and all that - but others seem to know where they are to be used and I had no clue. What if I used it and got into trouble like I did in my 'Socrates' days?

Slowly, though, I realized that THIS was MY area. You CAN use these words, even when you do not know the concept, and no trouble shall ensue. The guys who know what they are speaking of have little time to be reviewing other reviews; they are too busy reviewing books. And the author cannot even squeak in protest. If he does, all you have to say is that he should learn to take criticism in the right spirit and he slinks away...or is booed off by the rest of the crowd.

NOW is my time to use jargon and be seen as wise. Bring on your books!


  1. A true satire on our times, Suresh. I have participated in several meetings where such jargon was used and yes, most times, it was apparent that the user didn't much know what exactly the term meant and wasn't really bothered by that fact. Simple and understandable language was kind of looked down upon, in fact I had to tell a 'user' to dumb down, but the look I got--well I hit a sore spot.

    Regarding the social plight and the class struggle, it is indeed a travesty--descendants suffering for the slights his forbears might have committed. I completely agree that the downtrodden should be supported but not at the cost of merit and most certainly this policy should not end up 'downtrodding' those innocent descendants...

    Thanks again, Suresh!

    1. I did not intend a social satire in this manner; only the fact of how jargon is used and how each set of people have their own rules for using jargon. But, yes, it sometimes does come out regardless.

      Society can hardly be fair to everyone and, thus, any redressing of past wrongs comes at the cost of being unfair to the classes that were unfairly benefited in the past. But to deny the very fact that the current generation is facing the brunt of this inevitable unfairness - and to paint it as somehow being deserved for the sins of the forefathers - smacks of hypocrisy in my opinion and THAT flowed out too into the post.

  2. Its jargon, jargon everywhere and using simple english words is the worst sin for a true blue professional. People look at you as if you have sprouted horns.Of course, you would know that very well ,coming from an IIM :D

    1. Yes - there are times when it feels like the only thing I learned in IIM was jargon :) AND I have forgotten almost all of it :)