For years, I taught GRE prep for Kaplan. I taught grad school hopefuls how to get to the right answer...even if they knew nothing about the question at all. Or next to nothing. There are lots of tricks.
One great tip for the vocabulary questions is to try to determine the "charge" of the word. What we English majors refer to as the word's connotation. Does it have a positive charge? A negative charge? Or is it neutral? Most of the time, it's pretty easy to tell if the word that's supposed to go in the blank is a plus-word or a minus-word and, since words tend to sound like what they mean, you really can trust your ear.
My students loved this trick and were good at it. Except when it came to neutral words that we've turned positive. Like proximity. That's a neutral word. There's nothing intrinsically positive about it. You can be close to someone or something you love. But you can also be close to a dumpster. The edge of a cliff. Death. About half of my students put a little + over proximity, though.
The worst words in the exercise were fellowship and community. Pluses everywhere I turned. Of course these are positive words. Of course of course of course they are! But no. There is nothing intrinsically positive about fellowship. There is nothing intrinsically positive about community, either, despite its status as a feel-good buzz word. Building strong communities. We have to do more to build community.
Kafka knew a little about the negative possibilities of community. He was a non-practicing, German-speaking Jew born in Prague just before World War I. There were communities all around him, but he wasn't a part of any of them. And so he wrote this short piece with a simple title. Fellowship.
by Franz Kafka
We are five friends. One day we came out of a house one after the other, first one came and placed himself beside the gate, then the second came, or rather he glided through the gate like a little ball of quicksilver, and placed himself near the first one, then came the third, then the fourth, then the fifth. Finally we all stood in a row. People began to notice us, they pointed at us and said: Those five just came out of that house. Since then we have been living together. It would be a peaceful life if it weren't for a sixth one continually trying to interfere. He doesn't do us any harm, but he annoys us, and that is harm enough; why does he intrude when he is not wanted? We don't know him and don't want him to join us. There was a time, of course, when the five of us did not know one another, either, and it could be said that we still don't know one another, but what is possible and can be tolerated by the five of us is not possible and cannot be tolerated with this sixth one. In any case, we are five and don't want to be six. And what is the point of this continual being together anyhow? It is also pointless for the five of us, but here we are together and will remain together; a new combination, however, we do not want, just because of our experiences. But how is one to make all this clear to the sixth one? Long explanations would almost amount to accepting him in our circle, so we prefer not to explain and not to accept him. No matter how he pouts his lips we push him away with our elbows, but however much we push him away, back he comes.
I love how Kafka dismantles Community in just a few sentences. What is a community? According to this piece, a community has three parts: 1.) The people came from the same place, 2.) The people are near each other, and 3.) Other people notice and recognize the people as a group. Once those three criteria are met, the community doesn't want anyone else.
This is brilliant writing. Specific enough to be memorable, vague enough to be universal. I'm sure you've been excluded from a community before, and when you read this, you picture that community.
Saying: These are the diseases that we know. These are the ones that have made it into our books already. Sure, we didn't use to know them all, but the point is...we know them now.
Why are you...why are you being so insistent? So annoying? Can't you see...don't you get it? We are five. And we don't want to be six.