Trying to Teach Parsimony in Writing – Not so Easy.
I am blessed now to be teaching a class here at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. I say “blessed” because teaching is what I love to do, and when one is doing what they love to do, then one is not “working,” ever. I have 25 graduate students in my class and next week they will be submit their first written assignment: A two to three page paper that describes a decision making model employed when resolving ethic dilemmas as a psychotherapist.
Two pages is roughly the number of pages it took me to write a similar paper in my graduate ethics class several years ago, so I know it can be done. Some of the students have asked if they can go to three pages because (I’ll assume) they are so excited about the work that they cannot contain themselves and their writing. I will wait and see what they come up with before rendering judgment, but in approving the extension, I was reminded of the wonderful scene in Robert Redford’s move A River Runs Through It, where the father is instructing his two young boys on efficiency in writing. Or, parsimony as my graduate professors referenced it.
In the scene, the story’s father figure instructs his sons to write an essay. Each time they brought it to dad for approval he handed it back, saying, “that is good, but now write it half as long.” He was leading his students toward parsimony. See this site for a good description.
Of course, I need to reflect on my parsimonious ways. Perhaps I am not so good at it myself. The story of Gandhi and his use of sugar comes to mind.
There was a woman in India who was upset that her son was eating too much sugar. No matter how much she chided him, he continued to satisfy his sweet tooth. Totally frustrated, she decided to take her son to see his great hero Mahatma Gandhi.
She approached the great leader respectfully and said,
Sir, my son eats too much sugar. It is not good for his health. Would you please advise him to stop eating it?”
Gandhi listened to the woman carefully, turned and spoke to her son,
“Go home and come back to me in two weeks”
The woman looked perplexed and wondered why he had not asked the boy to stop eating sugar. She took the boy by the hand and went home.
Two weeks later she returned, boy in hand. Gandhi motioned for them to come forward. He looked directly at the boy and said,
Boy, you should stop eating sugar. It is not good for your health.”
The boy nodded and promised he would not continue this habit any longer.
The boy’s mother turned to Gandhi and asked,
Why didn’t you tell him that two weeks ago when I brought him here to see you?”
Mother, two weeks ago I was still eating sugar myself.”
Gandhi lived in such integrity that he would not allow himself to give advice unless he was living by it himself.
So, I too need to take heed and practice parsimony.