I remember one of the earliest tasks I had in junior high school was to look up words in a dictionary that I did not know and expand my vocabulary. I couldn’t tell you now what some of those words were, but I can tell you they were hard. I remember the feeling of accomplishment as I learned them. I was getting smarter and the pride of knowing it made me feel better about myself than I knew was possible.
I remember the first time I started hiding my words. I was at a family gathering and everyone around me was talking in short, simple sentences. I remember thinking that my big words would sound out of place and snobbish if I spoke them there. I remember intentionally not using them so I could avoid hurting the people I loved. That was the beginning of my dumbing down.
Dumb down = to convey some subject matter in simple terms to avoid seeming condescending with technical or academic language; to become simpler in expression or content; to become unacceptably simplistic
Synonyms: oversimplify, downplay, trivialize, vulgarize, simplify
I told myself that dumbing down was a good thing because I wasn’t making others around me feel bad; I never stopped to consider that I might have challenged them to better themselves. It never occurred to me that I was potentially causing more harm than good.
I remember when diet food first started coming out. It was all the rave to find chocolate in low calorie, low fat versions. We thought all of these options made chocolate more approachable for those of us who found extra pounds in the real thing. But no matter how good a bar or cookie or cake looked, it was but a poor understudy for the real thing. It left you wanting the real thing even more.
When you oversimplify something, you create a distorted view of the truth and you set yourself and others up to believe the lie that something is not as important as it really is. When I dumbed down my language, I trivialized the importance of education and intellect. I robbed myself and others of the beauty of my work by removing its refined, subtle, and complex qualities.
I let shame and fear hide my intellect because I thought a simplified version of myself would be more inspiring and relatable. But when I think of the people I have found inspiring and relatable, I realize they were all people who were not afraid to be themselves and strive for excellence in their particular set of skills. They challenged others and bettered the world not by downplaying their gifts but by intentionally sharpening them. I believe that is what we are all called to do.
What are you gifted at doing?
What are you doing to better yourself in those areas?
How are you sharing those gifts with others?