Monday, January 11, 2021

Missing The Wood For The Trees (MY Eng #1)

This is a start of a new series. Hopefully. If there's interest for its continuance.

The full title of the series is 'Mind Your English'. No, this is not an English class. Not entirely, at least. This series has a dual purpose for readers: (a) bring a positive change of your mindset; and (b) improve your English vocabulary. The first goal takes primary focus.

So don't expect learning about the rules of English grammar (my sentences aren't spellcheck-proof). I haven't studied English literature (unless movies like 'Price and Prejudice and Zombies' count). English simply happens to be my primary language, and the world's lingua franca (my elementary Latin comes from my legal training). So my focus on English is purely utilitarian functional.

And yes I'll be using plain and simple words, with the occassional dash of jazz to drive home a point. No big bombastic words for the sake of showing off my range of vocabulary (which is rather wide simply because I enjoy reading, and beating my older relatives in Scrabble when I was a kid).

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Okay, enough of introductions (and making poor excuses of my not-so-great English). Let's get on to the first idiom of the series - missing the wood for the trees

In fact, this idiom is partly conveniently explained in my introduction itself. The part of me caring more for English as a means of effective communication, rather than the love of the language itself. That's not to say to I despise English, of course. Rather, my philosophy is grounded on pragmatism - that the primary purpose of language is communication. Not just communication of information between people talking, but also communication of ideas through the written word (e.g. books).

The term 'missing the wood for the trees' simply means losing sight of the purpose of an actvity due to obsession over the process. Purpose over process. Substance over form. Results over rules.

The idiom shouldn't be interpreted that details, rules, and theories don't matter, of course. Grammar keeps English within the bounds of comprehension between the speaker and listener. The point is that we shouldn't misunderstand the bigger picture simply because of a single distorted pixel.

This caution is critical to those with an important message to convey - bosses, teachers, or any leader. Poor communicators obsess over getting small details right, no matter how insignificant. So much so that their obsession detracts everyone else from the true essence of the message.

For example, I'm now taking a course on 'research'. Most lessons are rather common-sensical. And yet, the course is filled with technical jargons that dominates the attention of both teacher and students. FAQs range from "What keywords should I use in this section" and "What will be tested in next week's quiz". Few people really asks questions like "I'm researching about X, should I use technique 1 or 2?"

Can't blame anyone in the class. The syllabus is designed in such a rigid way that every single box must be ticked. Worse, students are spending more time and energy learning about 'how to do research' in theory, rather than doing actual research itself. It's like a classroom of kids reading instruction manuals about bicycles (e.g. different types, prices, parts) for a whole semester before actually being allowed to ride on a bicycle. I just learnt to ride a bicycle on my own when I was six. So did all the other kids in my neighbourhood. Our biking passion came from riding our bikes, not by reading about bikes.

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I'm sure you can think of many more examples from your own experiences. Prioritising grades over practical training. Prioritising attendance over work productivity. Prioritising over technical accuracy over substantive weight. The laundry list goes on.

All of us are guilty of missing the wood for the trees. The reason being that it's simpler to count the trees rather than to survey the true value of the entire wood. In short, stopping short at counting trees is lazy. Don't be lazy. Don't miss the wood for the trees.

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