Think or Know?

By: Stan Crader

I like to fiddle with words. Fiddling helps me learn how best to use words, or use them most appropriately. Too often people use the wrong word and that’s the root of miscommunication. Lying is not the biggest problem, unintended obfuscation is. “What’s that?” you ask. Thanks for asking. I love it when people ask a question—answering a question instead of volunteering unsolicited information is always the best bet. Again, thanks for asking.

Someone once said that less is more, that someone probably wasn’t a banker or an IRS agent. Most people when asking a yes or no question don’t ask a yes or no question. For example – “Are you going to the game tonight? We are because my cousin’s daughter’s boyfriend’s first cousin knows the guy who works in the concession stand.” The asker simply wanted to know if the other person was going to the game, but they went on to qualify the reason for their going to the game and odds are the question never got answered and was followed up with – “Oh, when I was in high school I used to work in the concession stand.” And then the person who originally asked the question would respond. “Me too. I used to put too much salt in the popcorn and increase soda sales.” And the conversation would continue until their high school years were sufficiently embellished and relived. A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer would have saved everyone a good deal of time and avoided exponential bloviating. That’s an example of less being more.

But that’s not my point. Try this experiment. Instead of asking someone, “What do you think about something?” Ask them, “What do you know about any given topic?” You’ll notice that the simple substitution of ‘know’ instead of ‘think’ will drastically change the tenor of the response. Why is that? Glad you asked.

 Thinking is essentially the act of forming thoughts based on knowledge. But you’ll notice how people will go on adnauseam about things which they know little about when asked what they think. But ask them what they know and you’ll turn a gadfly into a mute.  For example ask someone what they think about America’s founding fathers, the authors of the constitution. And the response will be much different than asking what they know. For example, ask how many of the constitution authors claimed to be Christian. (39 of 40) And ask who among the 40 suggested the deliberations begin each day with prayer. The answer is Benjamin Franklin, who by the way was likely a Deist.

 Another example is the separation of church and state. Ask people what they think about the separation of church and state and a lively discussion will follow. Ask what they know about the issue, if it’s actually in the constitution, and when it became such a hotly contested issue. Well, few will realize the issue didn’t get any significant media attention until halfway through the twentieth century and had more to do with kids riding a public bus to a private school than preachers telling a congregation how to vote.

 I’m reminded of a quote I read in the book Hoskilonians – “After all is said and done, more is usually said than done.” Say what you mean, and know what you mean, don’t obfuscate; that’s for the politicians.



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