Is style more important than substance?

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Brian Kight

Popular culture at the moment values style over substance. People are quick to discredit, ignore, or reject any lesson delivered in a manner they don't personally like. Conversely, people are quick to believe or support anything delivered in an attractive or popular style.

Yesterday's email about how my step-dad taught me to hustle as a nine-year-old boy struck a nerve. I received replies on both ends of the spectrum, ranging from enthusiastic appreciation to angry criticism. All of you who didn't write me yesterday also have various opinions on the story.

As I read and responded to your perspectives, I noticed a pattern.

The people who appreciated yesterday's story chose to focus on the substance of the lesson. The people who criticized yesterday's story decided to focus on the parenting style.

Nothing brings out strong opinions more than issues on parenting. It's not that the parenting style in yesterday's story is above criticism. That's up to personal opinion. Parenting style wasn't the point of yesterday's message. Yesterday was about a young man, me, learning what it means to hustle, and that lesson changing his life. Were there other ways my step-dad could have taught me to hustle? Of course. He chose the way he chose and it worked for me.

Like most people, I want great substance delivered in the best style. I work hard to do that here for you and everywhere else in my life. I hold myself to a high standard in both style and substance. And yet, I will be imperfect in that mission.

Valuable lessons don't always get delivered in clean packaging. Sometimes the messages we need to hear come in imperfect ways through imperfect sources. Sometimes you and I are the flawed sources trying to share lessons in clunky ways.

So when I receive a lesson of substance delivered in an imperfect style, I set the style aside and focus on the essence of the message. My integrity demands that.

It's ok to disagree with style or to prefer certain types over others, but please don't make style your central priority. Focus on the substance of the lesson even if you disagree with how it was delivered. 

Most people choose style over substance. I humbly suggest that when you have to choose, and you will, choose substance over style.

Answer the call. Do the work.

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