“Leaving something incomplete makes it interesting and gives one the feeling that there is room for growth.”
Kenko (Buddhist monk), from Essays in Idleness, circa 1330
I’ve been thinking a lot about this notion as I struggle with a final round of edits on a new discussion report for my recently completed project discussion Food: What Might Be For Dinner. As I revise various awkward phrasings, fine tune possible policy implementations, and struggle to find the “right” tone and emphasis, I’m constantly reminded that not only do the significant limits of my intellect and writing skills insure that I won’t please all masters or produce perfect prose, but that in some ways I shouldn’t try. Perhaps less is more—not only in sentence length but also conceptually. Perhaps leaving some stones unturned and/or some ideas incomplete or inconsistent in one or more ways is not only inevitable but desirable. This may be especially true if a primary goal for our public discussions is to engage participants in not only further developing the ideas that are described in the report but also to engage them in exploring and developing their own, additional policy ideas as well.
To give credit—or share the blame, depending on how this notion is received—other IF Fellows and colleagues have also advocated for this notion of some measure of “intentional incompleteness.” It’s been mentioned more than once in other blog postings on this site. And one colleague all too graphically made this point by serving us at lunch one day a complete, fully-chewed entrée with side dishes. The food had been blenderized into a most unappealing brown pasty goo. It was beyond unappetizing. His point was that some of our “over-developed” possibilities and their accompanying prose were similarly unappealing for those interested in exploring (on their own) what the food might taste like or—to switch metaphors—where the trails might lead.
This notion is underscored I think by two corresponding and essential values:
- respect for our discussion participants. They don’t need (or certainly want) to be spoon-fed, and
- a healthy humility about our abilities to either perfectly develop or describe all possible policy approaches. There’s much more and often better-developed policy notions available elsewhere.
IF’s discussion reports present just some, of many possible trailheads into the future. Their larger, more unique contribution is that they invite readers and discussion participants to actively participate in exploring and developing not only the ideas within the reports but their own ideas as well. Leaving a few unmarked trails—and not presuming to know them all in the first place—can make the afternoon’s hike a lot more fun.