“Now when I had mastered the language of this water and had come to know every trifling feature that bordered the great river as familiarly as I knew the letters of the alphabet, I had made a valuable acquisition. But I had lost something, too. I had lost something which could never be restored to me while I lived. All the grace, the beauty, the poetry had gone out of the majestic river!” — Mark Twain, Two Ways of Seeing a River

Why We Should Increasingly Value Being Explicit


Do we need to clarify something obvious? Probably not. If it’s obvious, then it’s obvious. The very definition of the word “obvious” precludes the question.

Yet, some argue that clarity is helpful for its own sake. “Even if something seems obvious,” they might say, “it may be worth exploring further.” Certainly, the scientific method, if it could speak, would be one of the those voices.

Clarifying something for the sake of clarifying, i.e. without regard for any practical application, seems to be a part of our natural curiosity.

But no where does the search for clarity get us into more trouble than in our own personal relationships. As Clay Shirky puts it, “Trying to express implicit and fuzzy relationships in ways that are explicit and sharp doesn’t clarify the meaning, it destroys it.”

And therein lies a paradox. We fantasize healthy relationships as places where we can just be ourselves, where we are accepted fully and completely, and where communication feels effortless. But in doing so, we’re thinking of a relationship in a very non-relational way. Meaning, as long as I feel good, then the relationship tends to feel good. This is a good starting point (and likely required to stay in any voluntary relationship), but to be a good relationship it needs to make space to embrace the needs of the other person as well.

And this leaves, I think, one obvious conclusion; we’re going to have become more explicit with each other than we generally prefer to be.

Here’s what I mean:



Chris Cowan, EdD., MDiv.

I write about self-management, leadership, and Holacracy®