Here's an email sent to me by a reader:
(Note: I was given the reader's permission to reprint it here.)
“I read Otherwise Engaged and enjoyed it. But there is one thing that bothered me. In the book you have a lot to say about clarity and consistency of language. You also argue that employee engagement, while difficult to achieve, is actually quite simple and that it ultimately comes down to showing other people respect.
“That all makes sense to me. So why would you say that the root cause of the difficulty is ‘solipsism’? Why use such an obscure word when you could have just said ‘self-absorption’? Or if you wanted to use a slightly more elevated word, you could have used ‘narcissism’. Why solipsism? Isn’t that inconsistent with your point about simplicity and clarity?
Here’s my reply:
Thanks for your note. Thanks, too, for reading my book. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
You’re correct that I make a big deal about clarity and consistency of language in the book. You’re also correct that “solipsism” is a pretty uptown word, one that sort of sticks out like a sore thumb.
But it’s uptown-ness and sore-thumb-ness is a feature, not a bug. Things that are commonplace tend not to get noticed, and I wanted to stop readers in their tracks. I wanted to make them pause and think about things a bit. Now, if my reason for doing so isn’t clear to a reader, then that’s a writing failure on my part. So while I stand by my strategy, I may have come up short when it came to execution.
One last point. It’s true that self-absorption and narcissism are in the same ballpark as solipsism, but they aren’t quite synonymous with it. While those words have to do with self-regard and self-love, solipsism means a belief that the self is all that there is. As such, it is a much more serious condition.
That’s why I used it. Hope this explanation approached the kind of clarity I was going for in the book.