Absolute claims. Every thing, everyone, all, without exception. These are terms I’ve grown to dislike, and are terms I try to eliminate from my vocabulary. Why I do this is because I am not willing to say things are absolutely true, with a few exceptions. The certainty granted by these kinds of absolute statements are a powerful thing. Both when you talk with others and powerful in how it makes you think.
When we talk in certainties we not only run into the problem of misleading those we are talking too, but we can, in the long run, end up tricking ourselves into thinking that we are more certain then we actually have any right to be. There is some truth to those saying which go along the line of: Say something enough and it’ll become true. At least in our own minds that is. When we talk in unwarranted certainties we modify the dialogue we create a culture where where generalizations are true, where the complex is made to look simple, models (think economics) are instead facts of reality, and should it go on long enough soon lies and misconceptions become difficult to pull from the nuggets of wisdom. I’m not going to say this is 100% fact either, but it is how I see things to some extent. My solution is the try to strip much of the excess certainty out of my words as I can. Now I am certain of some thing things, and for those few things I and willing to claim certainly, but if I am unsure or can think of exceptions I think it is important to voice those as caveats in my language. Degrees of certainty are perfectly alright, but complete certainty is rarely warranted.
If I use terms like all, or every I better mean it, otherwise fundamentally I’m being unintentionally misleading at best, or outright lying at worst. I’ll grant a caveat to (obvious) hyperbole, and although it has a place it still shouldn’t be over used. I find by saying just a few extra words we not only become more truthful, but we can more easily open the door to discussion and the complexities which underlie the world we live on. Well that and just become better communicators, you can get yourself into all kinds of trouble with a careless statement. Particularly when grouping people together.
A small and related exercise I regularly do is just to think about the possibility space surrounding an issue. The most practical one is to try to come up with a wide variety of reasons for why a person do an action. For example for us drivers, if some one cuts your off or otherwise drives by erratically. While It’s perfectly normal to think they are insane or morons, or otherwise incompetent in the area of operating motor vehicles. However, don’t stop there, start thinking about more nuanced reasons for why they drove like they did. Perhaps they we’re tired, or distracted, think about reasons what they could be distracted or tired or what have you. Not only do you build your empathy muscles doing this, but you also get good at thinking about the sorts of possibles that exist, and the ways an outcome can arrive from many dissimilar sources. It helps us move away from our human tendencies towards black and white thinking, and otherwise over simplifying the world around us.
So what do you think about absolute statements, and the use of certainty in language? Leave a comment down below!