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The triumph of the caveats.
Stop explaining yourself so much.
::This post originally ran on my old blog on February 8, 2006.::
Whenever someone, myself included, begins a conversation or blog post with a listing of credentials I know what’s coming: a “but.”
“You know, I’m a conservative who always votes Republican and consistently attends church and gives generously to religious causes BUT I love to read dirty books.”
(Caveat: This, by the way, is not a description of me. Thank you.)
A similar technique, much shorter but fulfilling the same purpose, starts a diatribe off with a clarification of how the speaker defines himself in relation to what he is about to say. This is so his expertise might not be questioned.
“As an artist, I think Picasso had no talent.”
Both methods are a lazy defense, the same way people (again, myself included) use “I think” too much.
“I think Chris Christie is overweight.”
Instead of declaring our thoughts and opinions, we hedge them in a protective shield of “I think” or a listing of our credentials. The “I think” allows us, if cornered, to either retract what we said or find a suitable parry. And the credential-listing does two things: it silences those who would question what we say, if they are prone to being silenced, or it signals that we are either unique and not a stereotype and therefore someone to be reckoned with.
“Chris Christie isn’t overweight.”
“Well, maybe. I just think he is.”
Why do we feel it is necessary to do this? Why do writers, like myself, beat around the bush and take a while setting up the hammer we’re about to drop?
One word: audience.
We do it to silence the ankle-biters.
We think about all the ways people might respond, the accusations they might toss our way, and we try to head them off at the start to prevent those future responses from even forming in the gun barrel. We’re creating doorways to exit through if the water gets too hot.
So, we caveat away.
Our writing be better if we wrote offensively (and I mean this in tactical terms) instead of defensively. I instinctively struggle, when writing on controversial topics, with trying not offend too much and leave myself plenty of escape hatches every few paragraphs. This is weak and leads to mushy-minded opinions that are too timid to declare themselves in the light of day.
As an artist, I take my writing seriously.