As I have learned over the years, some crusades are quieter than others.
Take, for example, the recent efforts of Goochland’s District 5 supervisor Ken Peterson to have the county’s monthly reports from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) presented in a more user-friendly format.
As Peterson noted in two consecutive meetings, the average reader unaccustomed to the various abbreviations, codes and technical terms in any given month’s report of recent VDOT activity would simply have no idea, in most cases, what they were looking at.
In short, Peterson said, the gobbledygook had to go.
While he was in no way accusing anyone from VDOT of attempting to obfuscate the facts or engage in any other such funny business, Peterson also made it clear that using bewildering descriptors didn’t exactly, in his viewpoint, serve the public good.
As someone who has had to sift through more than a few data-driven reports that are heavy on jargon and the kind of “inside baseball” minutiae that can be positively mind-numbing after even a few pages, it was refreshing to see Peterson’s polite but determined efforts to bring clarity.
Truth be told, I thought of this the other day while trying to sort out a pile of medical bills after a family member’s recent surgery.
The procedure had been a relatively minor one, but it had nevertheless triggered a veritable avalanche of bills and benefits explanations that were so dense with terms I didn’t know that I finally picked up the phone and called the number listed at the top of one statement.
A half hour later I had begun to get to the bottom of it, making careful notes in the margins and repeatedly asking the poor woman on the other end of the line to explain each thing “as if I were an idiot.”
Still, it left me feeling exhausted and also sorry for those without the time or the energy to make sure that they understand the hundreds of various bills, user agreements and contracts they will be presented with over the course of their lifetimes.
“It’s a lack of clarity that creates chaos and frustration,” said the noted author and speaker Steve Maraboli, “and those emotions are poison to any living goal.”
Precision, brevity and simplicity may be rare these days, but they are so important.
That’s why I say fight on, Mr. Peterson, and thank you.