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Monday, April 18, 2016

Being Authentic - A No Nonsense Guide

When I was 12 years old, alien abductions were the rage.  It seemed that everybody was claiming to be abducted.  They were in all the newspapers and magazines.  Plenty of books were written about them.  I picked up a paperback book chronicling one man’s supposed abduction.  His was a more friendly abduction apparently.  He recounted what the aliens had taught him.  One of the lessons was how to make a free energy machine.  And you could demonstrate it with a couple carbon zinc batteries.  He even provided instructions.
Another Abduction

I was enthralled.  I sneaked into the basement with a couple batteries, a knife and a hack saw to follow these detailed instructions.  If my mom had known I was trying to cut open batteries she would have had a fit.  I carefully followed the instructions, cut out the carbon rod and removed the zinc foil.  Then I went to the next step, and made an interesting discovery.  These detailed instructions made no sense.  I could read the words.  I could verify the grammar.  I could NOT perform the steps.  They became nonsense.  Needless to say I was pretty disillusioned.  No free energy device that day.


That was my first experience with nonsense instructions.  Later in life, I started to notice that nonsense instructions are surprisingly common.  Often they come as short phrases or imperatives:  "Be a man" and its variations, "grow a pair" or "man up".   To be successful, you must "have relentless focus".  "Pay attention in class" and "study hard" might be more familiar to students.  Entrepreneurs are advised to "raise the bar", and even to "fail fast."  Of course, there's the ever popular "Just do it!"  The phrases go on and on.  Sometimes they get a little more elaborate.  I bought a self-help book that was based entirely on the principle of simply “letting go” of everything that hindered you.  Nowhere in the book did it define what it meant to “let go.”  (I’m still holding onto my anger about that.)


Nonsense instructions are so common we need a buzzword for them, maybe "null-directives”; instructions or advice that seem logical and precise but in fact are insufficient or nonsense.


There is one particular null-directive that keeps recurring. It comes up when teenagers want to make friends or go on dates.  It comes up when people want to make a good impression.  It comes up when people go on job interviews or want to give speeches.  If you ever wanted to improve your social skills, you’ve probably heard this:  “Just be yourself”, or “Be authentic.”