I am more fond than most of a good rhetorical flourish. Repetition. Floating opposites. One that’s not like the others. Reductio ad absurdum. And of course hyperbole. These are fun ways to make a point. It feels satisfying to express our ideas in such a pure form and the power they have over audiences is undeniable. Unfortunately, it is also unhealthy.
The pathology that leads to so much hyperbole is simple enough. Workplaces can be noisy. When you frame your ideas cautiously and humbly it can be hard to break through. The pressure is even worse if you feel your job performance in any way depends on someone, anyone, reading your idea and deciding to do something about it. So you ratchet up the language to elicit a response.
This path is clearly suboptimal. You may get the attention that you hoped for in the short term but at the cost of credibility and time when people make an effort to dig in and find the claims overstated. Thrash is compounded when the context around something you wrote collapses. There is no substitute for aligning more up front and sharing more complete context.
We must take responsibility for the consequences of what we write. We need to be much more humble in how we communicate our concerns and discuss our ideas. We need to ask more questions to guide us to better outcomes. We need to make only measured claims and express openness to the possibility we are wrong even then. If we don’t, we may find even our writing needs to pass stronger review before it goes to a large audience which would be a real loss. On the other hand, almost everything I write goes through editing and my content is stronger for it so maybe that isn’t so bad after all…