Monthly Archives: August 2009

The Law of Explanation

I came across the Law of Explanation yesterday and it really resonated with what I’ve been trying to explain to our children:

The first half says “When you’re explaining something to somebody and they don’t get it, that’s not their problem, it’s your problem.” Anything that’s important, that’s deep enough to matter, is probably not self-evident; it’s going to require a lot of explanation, and that’s an essential part of your job.

The second half says “When someone’s explaining something to you and you’re not getting it, that’s not your problem, it’s their problem.”  The effect of this one is that you have to do a very courageous thing: say “No, I don’t understand.”

Wouldn’t the world be a better place? Tim Bray, XML co-inventor and Director of Web Technologies at Sun Microsystems, reportedly explained the law in a convocation speech given at his Alma Mater this spring (and shamelessly stolen by me from Barton George’s excellent blog http://bartongeorge.net/2009/07/23/tim-brays-law-of-explanation).