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What is the Take Away?

Another new phrase has pressed itself upon us: “the take away.” To “take away” was used to refer to stealing or removing something from its place. Now it means what is valuable out of a larger whole. “What was the take away from that book, film, sermon, lecture, etc.?” The “take away” is what someone finds important or worth remembering. My take away is what suits me.

This new phrase concerns me, since it is another expression of reductionism and over-simplification—something like an executive summary. The executive has no time to read the whole document, so another person reads and summarizes it for her, usually in bullet points, (whose only job is to over simplify and place things in a rather random sequence).

Book, films, sermons, and lectures require serious scrutiny. Consider what is being offered and who is offering it. You may need to experience something you did not want to take away. Perhaps a film takes away your naiveté about religion or jazz or dogs. You got more than you expected. Perhaps you received something you would like to take away from your awareness, but you cannot because it is larger than you are.

I had a student who kept asking me to put things in “a nutshell,” to which I would often reply, “Dave, there is no nutshell for this concept.” It would be wrong to ask, “What is the take away from The Gospel of John?” because we should want all of it. There is no Cliff Notes version of the Bible or of Homer.

Truncated information may lead to loss. “The take away” often takes away needed knowledge. We want the skeleton without the meat, the blueprint without the building, the recipe without the meal. Thus, please take away the take away.

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