Creating a Style Guide for Life
You might not immediately make the connection between a newspaper’s new style rule and how we go about our personal development journey, but the connection is there. Trust me.
Regular readers of The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the statewide newspaper in Arkansas and my former employer, might have noticed a change in recent weeks in how the paper refers to the state’s largest and best-known university. The new style guide apparently requires that at some point in the article the author refer to it as the “University of Arkansas, Fayetteville,” even in the sports section after a first reference of “the Arkansas Razorbacks.”
As a writer, editor, and former newspaper hack, I understand all too well how and why such silly policies are created. I can’t tell you the specifics of this one, but it no doubt involved many meetings and a great deal of hand-wringing. And after all that debate, the editors arrived at what is, without question, an awful result.
To some, the purpose of a style guide is to create consistency in the written language. But that’s just one result, not the real purpose. The real purpose is to help readers better understand what they are reading. This policy neither creates consistency nor helps the reader. Just the opposite, in fact.
For starters, the policy creates what I call “reader roadblock.” It introduces unnecessary words that forces me-the-reader to pause and ask, “What up with that?” before moving forward without a logical or reasonable answer. So it’s a waste of space and it’s a waste of my time. Second, it doesn’t create consistency because the paper doesn’t apply the same style to other universities. For instance, it doesn’t refer to the “University of Kentucky, Lexington” or the “University of Arkansas, Little Rock” or “Arkansas State University, Jonesboro.”
One day shortly after the paper adopted this new style, I noticed a story about the “University of Arkansas, Fayetteville” defeating “IUPUI” in a softball game. I can assure you that at least 99 percent of the ADG’s readers know that the Arkansas Razorbacks represent the Fayetteville campus of the University of Arkansas, but almost none know what IUPUI stands for (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis).
So what’s all this have to do with personal growth, you ask? Well, we all do the same thing in our lives. We see a small issue in our life and become consumed with finding a solution that ends up creating more problems than it solves, all because we lose focus on what really matters. We stubbornly hold to some viewpoint, refusing to let go, and we find ourselves on the slippery slope toward legalism.
We all need structure, discipline and boundaries in our lives. We all need the equivalent of a “style guide” to help us order our worlds. For me, that guide is the Bible. But when I lose focus on what really matters – to love God and love others, to grow like Jesus and produce Kingdom fruit – then I soon find myself obsessing about things that ultimately don’t matter. I’m not saying there’s anything in the Bible that doesn’t matter. I’m saying that we don’t need to complicate it with guidelines that solve problems that don’t really exist.