It is better to be explicit and wrong than to be vague

One of my favourite quotes from Strunk and White is, “Don’t compound ignorance with inaudibility.” While it is wise to not say anything if you’ve got nothing nice to say, at least in some circumstances, remaining silent just because you don’t know what you’re talking about benefits no one. You need to be open to correction, and if you don’t ask questions or share your views, you’ll never be able to grow.

We need to get over our fear of being wrong. If we don’t, we’ll never learn enough to be right.

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What’s the alternative to subject mastery?

We throw the phrase “subject mastery” around at work a lot. It is always with a positive connotation: we want people to have subject mastery, or we wish someone had greater commitment to subject mastery, or we’re glad someone does have subject mastery. It feels like the modern dichotomy between extrovert and introvert, where introvert has all kinds of negative connotations (shy, reclusive, weird, loner, anti-social) and the assumption is that people need to be moved from introverted to extroverted. In this case, you have people who are subject masters, and then everyone else who either isn’t smart enough or isn’t disciplined, determined, or focused enough.

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Quick heading out of town post

We’re always so uncomfortable talking about death. Or rather, we’re not really uncomfortable talking about death, but the accouterments of death. We can discuss death philosophically, talk about it directly, and all that’s fine, but I have no good way to refer to certain things. It seems crass to say that someone died. We have to go to a funeral. We try to find better ways to phrase these things, like “They passed away,” but everyone still knows. We’re not fooling anybody.

April’s brother, Adam, is driving down tonight to spend the night with us, and then we’ll be leaving early tomorrow to go to Cape Giradeau for April’s uncle’s funeral. I, for one, was shocked, and that surprise continues to linger. I know his health wasn’t good, but I… just hadn’t expected him to die. I’m still not sure what to think about it.

We were just talking a couple of months ago about a book he wanted to write. It’s the only time we have spoken, really, but I enjoyed the conversation and looked forward to talking with him again. It’s a paltry connection, but it is startling to realize it is broken now.

Back on Friday, when I will try and power my way through 14 pages of research paper on applying structuralist and poststructuralist theory to the medieval inquisition, which is due on Saturday. Considering I’ve been typing and/or transcribing my research/notes as I went along, and those notes are about 13 pages by themselves, I’m pretty confident I’ve got enough material. I don’t know that the paper’s quality will be great, but oh well. It’s not like I need a good grade.

Designing a Path to Identity

This post, written by Steve Moore, is part of an ongoing series of collaborative conversations. He grants rights to its usage under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.


Design begs for authenticity

Today, you hear a lot about the importance of branding, in the online world. Whether you’re selling T-shirts for your band, writing Op-Eds for a periodical, or mocking up websites for photographers, you are aware of the idea of brand control and its potential impact. Business owners need to be sure that the products they put out are consistent with their plans for objectives as a company. It is the same in education; a teacher needs to be consistent in his or her message to the class about his lessons. If the rules appear to change for no reason, then you lose credibility. You lose your audience. Such is the purpose of design, to help you communicate your brand’s message clearly. But how does good design contribute to your objective? Isn’t such a thing as ephemeral as “design” only a subjective screen covering a person’s idea? How does good design help define who you are as a professional?

These are all questions with dangerously simple answers. They are questions specific to expression, that we all think we understand. The truth is, the ideas of design and expression boil your idea, your product, or your company down to one thing: Identity.

Being the good little scholar of literary concepts that I am, I naturally connect this concept which some may see as strictly economic, like “branding,” or rooted in art, like “design,” as a question of narrative importance. Design is all about who you are; it’s all about building, maintaining, and sharing your identity. So design becomes much less murky if you know who you are (or who/what you are representing). That’s simple, right!? Dang, that’s two posts in a row an interrobang could have come in handy. Sure it’s simple. Just open your chest up and look inside. Pop the hood. Crack open the server case. Read your old book-jacket cover. Well, if only life came with instr–resisting the urge to use cliche–if only, people were so simple, so static…

If design is inherently connected to identity, then marketers had better get on the couch and start self-discovering. Building web pages, you hear a lot about optimization through the use of “meta tags” that mark your domain with keywords. Looking at the word  “meta,” (which is really more of a prefix) we find that it means  “in reference to,” “about,” or “from within.” So websites and their designers need to do a little soul searching before their designs are complete. If you don’t understand the “within” for a particular job (web designers), then you most likely won’t be able to meet the needs of your client. Business owners, on the other hand, need to understand themselves before having new design implemented.

What questions can I ask myself related to establishing identity?

What language do I speak?

This is not as simple as it sounds; language is as deep and pervasive as any aspect of our identities. Furthermore, this question goes beyond what geographical tongue you use, but makes you describe who your audience is. Who are you trying to reach? Design, by definition, should fit a pre-determined purpose. Your website should be designed to fit a group or type of person with specific objectives. Maybe you are a blogger yourself and so, in considering design, you can access your own metacognitive habits and thoughts. Considering that I have a lot of readers who are, themselves, bloggers, web designers, and writers, I do my best to casually tailor my posts to fit their lexicons. I have an education blog too; I use different language off-the-cuff there than I would here.

For example, I may very easily dip into the educational “alphabet soup,” as one of my professors called it, and confuse readers if I am not careful. I wouldn’t dare write this sentence here without explanation:

“While NCLB may be considered to drive more action-based WFSGs and PDCs, there is  only correlative data to support this claim.”

Most people in the field of education (or very active parents) would understand that I’m writing about No Child Left Behind, Whole Faculty Study Groups, and Professional Development Communities, but a web designer would be rather perplexed most likely. On the same hand, I wouldn’t want to write this sentence in an education blog post:

“While pervasive in the development world, recursive acronyms like PHP, GNU, and TIP are humorous in ways often not understood by those outside of the field.”

What is your history?

Knowing where you have been is crucial to knowing where you are and where you want to go. So understanding the origins of your ideas is very helpful in forming a dialogue with your audience. If your readers perceive that you have an appropriate level of authority, then it will be much more likely for them to subscribe to your ideas. Being able to express where you are coming from is key to building a base upon which to prop your design (whatever it may be). Consider the classic frame of the Hero’s Journey, as Joseph Campbell describes it:

Is your design heroic?

Is your design heroic?

Inception: the hero’s call to action (expressing the origins of your idea)

Trial by fire: the hero’s challenge (show your work and experience)

Return: the hero finds his/her way home, changed (explain how you are unique)

I have always understood the basic plan for design to be rooted in this information. Maybe it’s your updated business plan, your master’s thesis, or an autobiographical reflection; find useful ways to incorporate this information, and your design will be more authentic for it.

If you’d like to contribute an article to our conversation,  comment here, on or at We’re also all active on Twitter:

Steve, Ryan, and Matthew.

You’re Not Agnostic

You know what really grinds my gears? When people say they’re not sure whether they believe in God or not, so they’re agnostic.

Agnosticism defined

The defining principle of gnosticism is communicated by its Greek root, “gnosis” which means “knowledge.” The concept is one of mystical knowledge, and that by gaining knowledge, we grow closer to the divine.

To contextualize this within Christianity, the community at Qumran represented Christian gnostics who felt that salvation was attained through knowledge of God. That what a person needed to do was learn as much as they could, come to really understand what and who God was, and that by gaining this knowledge a person could enter heaven. This was later declared a heresy, but its appeal is understandable because it creates a measurable and definable goal for salvation.

Agnosticism, conversely, is essentially the statement that mystical knowledge is impossible to attain. It is a reasoned viewpoint declaring that humans cannot know one way or the other about the divine, the afterlife, or anything pertaining to them, and therefore we must maintain a stance founded in doubt and skepticism.

Where atheism is the belief that no deity exists, agnosticism is the belief that we cannot know one way or the other.

It’s not a compromise

It seems like a lot of people got the impression that agnosticism is actually a belief that falls somewhere between theism and atheism and is the label for anyone who can’t make up their mind. If you believe in god, you’re a theist, if you don’t you’re an atheist, and if you can’t decide, you’re agnostic. That is simply not true.

Agnosticism is a commitment to skepticism and doubt. It is a commitment, not to science and reason necessarily, but to the recognition that humankind has limited faculties with which to comprehend the universe. If there is a spiritual plane about which we are unaware, one that can be neither measured nor interacted with, how can one believe? Equally, how can one disbelieve?

It’s a cop-out to say that because you don’t know, you’re agnostic. That’s not the point. The point is that you can’t know, and therefore you’re agnostic.

Stop perverting our language

If you don’t know, just say you don’t know. It’s important to use words appropriately and accurately, and by not doing so, you not only water-down definitions and confuse the issues, you also denigrate true agnostics. How can anyone take an agnostic seriously when the prevailing definition is “someone who hasn’t bothered to think this through and make up their mind?”

St. Paul admonishes Christians to study and learn about God so they can always give an accounting of their beliefs if called upon to do so. I’m not going to change how I treat you one way or the other based on your beliefs, and that goes for politics as well as religion or any other ideological issues. What I do care about is that you can give thoughtful reasons for why you believe what you do, and it frustrates me when someone can’t.

So don’t cop-out and call yourself agnostic when you’re not. Take the time to think things through and stop perverting our language.