…they liked to have books filled with things that they already knew, set out fair and square with no contradictions
History like travel ‘broadens the mind’. The differences we encounter are precious in reminding us that our ways are not the only ways, and other cultures and other generations have achievements as great as or greater than ours. Yet in the past, as in other countries, only some things are different and much is the same – a reminder of common humanity as well as cultural diversity. We owe respect to the past as we do to other societies today, not for the sake of our predecessors, who are beyond caring, but for our own sake. Treating the past as grotesque and inferior is the attitude of the tourist who can see nothing ‘abroad’ but dirt and bad plumbing.
(Memorandum by the Prime Minister)
To do our work, we all have to read a mass of papers. Nearly all of them are far too long. This wastes time, while energy has to be spent in looking for the essential points.
I ask my colleagues and their staffs to see to it that their reports are kept shorter.
- The aim should be Reports which set out their main points in a series of short, crisp paragraphs.
- If a Report relies on detailed analysis … these should be set out in an Appendix.
- Often the occasion is best met … by submitting an Aide-memoire, consisting of headings which can be expanded orally if needed.
- Let us have an end of phrases such as these:“It is also of importance to bear in mind the following considerations….” or “Consideration should be given to the possibility of carrying into effect….” Most of these woolly phrases are mere padding which can be left out altogether or replaced by a single word. Let us not shrink from using the short, expressive phrase, even if it is conversational.
Reports drawn up on the lines I propose may at first seem rough compared to the flat surface of officialese jargon.
But the saving of time will be great, while the discipline of setting out the real points concisely will prove an aid to clearer thinking.
on the danger of projecting our own certainties back on to the confusion of the past as people experienced it
The fact — the inescapable fact — is that we know how it all came out, and they did not.
The truth doesn’t care about our needs or our wants. It doesn’t care about our governments, our ideologies, our religions. It will lie in wait for all time.