What Do You Believe?

Knowing what you believe is an essential part of becoming a fully-realized person. It is also helpful in a number of different ways.

Knowing your beliefs can:
  • Make you more confident

More than anything else, perhaps, your beliefs help define who you are. The more you know your beliefs, the more you know yourself, and the more confident you will be.

  • Keep you from being fooled

If someone tries to provide you with misleading or manipulative information, knowing your own thoughts is crucial. In other words, they can help you navigate difficult waters.

  • Help you make decisions

Companies often have a “mission statement” that provides guidance when there is a decision to be made. Personal beliefs can serve the same purpose. For instance, does an action get you closer to your ultimate goal? Does a decision match your values?

  • ┬áBe a conversation starter

If you find yourself talking to a stranger and you don’t know what to say, falling back on what you believe is a good way to start. Talking about something you believe in will provide a topic to build a discussion around. Similarly, it can also be useful in determining how to respond to a conversation someone else starts.

  • Make fulfilling friendships

If you know what you think and care about, you can surround yourself with people who have beliefs that are similar, or complementary, to your own. Those friendships are likely to resonate more significantly.

  • Help you choose a meaningful career

Similar to finding friendship, the key to a fulfilling career can be an alignment of your own beliefs with a company culture or goals.

Can you think of other ways beliefs are important?

Easier said than done

Of course, talking or thinking about your beliefs is quite different from actually knowing what they are. In attempting to discover what you believe, you may even find that you question things that you have believed for a very long time. That can be very disconcerting.

Do you know what is important to you? What you are passionate about, and what is central to who you are as a person? What do you believe?

Related questions: What beliefs do you have that might be wrong? How can we encourage meaningful conversation? What is important? How do you know who to trust?

What Are You Thinking About?

Every week, Michael and I meet online to talk about questions for Intellectual Roundtable. These conversations always start the same way: with the question, “What are you thinking about?”

The discussions we have are wide-ranging. They might cover interesting things we have read, from online articles to non-fiction books, from novels to blogs. Sometimes we discuss thought-provoking conversations we have had with others.

The topic of our health, mental or physical, occasionally comes up. How we make the decisions about how to stay as healthy as possible, from the food we consume to our exercise routines.

We also talk about politics. We don’t spend too much time on the latest happenings in Washington D.C., but rather what we consider the ways to make life better, both for us individually but also for society in general.

Sometimes, these conversations can be distilled down to particular questions for this blog. Some of them are obvious, and make for insightful questions. But not always. Sometimes, we can’t quite get the wording right. Or the content can’t be boiled down to one sentence. Or a question just isn’t apparent.

But what we have to say is always engaging. We never run out of things to talk about, and I always end our meeting having been exposed to ideas or perspectives that I hadn’t before.

And it all comes from a simple question: What are you thinking about?

Related questions: How much of our thoughts are our own? Where do shared ideas exist? What do you think about when out for a walk? What are you reading?

Why Are Bad Words Bad?

@#$%!

We are all familiar with swear words. Whether they are taught to us by an older sibling, or a particularly mischievous kid at the playground, or you happen to overhear adults swearing, these words often fascinate us as children.

It makes sense. Children, particularly very young children, are among the most powerless members of society. They have to be fed, clothed, taken everywhere, they don’t have or make money. And yet, just by speaking a particular set of words, they can elicit a reaction from adults all around.

These words also hold some fascination, even for adults. You may or may not swear yourself, but cursing is everywhere. Certain words are bleeped on broadcast TV, sometimes with humorous effects. For example, late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel has a recurring segment called “This Week in Unnecessary Censorship“. In it, non-swear words are bleeped, with the intended effect to make seemingly innocuous speech sound dirty.

But what is it about these words that makes them bad?

$#*!

To help examine this question, let’s look at the word shit. What makes this word bad? What are the qualities that make it so offensive that it can’t be spoken in polite conversation?

Certainly it isn’t the action itself. We are all familiar with going to the bathroom — it is among those things that everybody does. There is even a children’s book called “Everybody Poops”. The concept of pooping is something that is explained to every child in every language and in every culture. It has to be, because, well, everybody poops.

So there must be a difference between the word poop and the word shit. They can’t simply be synonyms, or else why would you be able to say “poop” on broadcast TV and not be bleeped, but “shit” is censored every time?

What is the difference? Is it the context in which it is used? Is it simply that everyone agrees that it is a bad word? Would it be possible to just agree that a bad word is no longer a bad word? Why are bad words bad?

Related questions: How does your vocabulary influence how you think? Where do shared ideas exist? What do we have in common? What words have the most power?

When Should You Criticize Someone?

Being critical of someone else can be a tricky endeavor, even if it is well-intentioned. If you criticize, it might be interpreted as a personal attack. If they respond with a defensive posture, it might make effective communication more difficult.

When To Criticize

Sometimes, it is important to challenge someone else’s ideas or comments. If a friend or family member expresses an idea that you strongly disagree with, particularly if that idea is hurtful or dangerous, it should not remain unanswered.

By engaging with someone, you might be exposing him or her to a point of view they may not have encountered before. That can be a very valuable thing, particularly in this era of online bubbles of group-think.

But sometimes being critical does not serve any defined purpose. The person being criticized is unlikely to change, and might not even listen to the criticism. If all that can be achieved is hurt or angry feelings, then keeping silent may be a better course of action.

How To Criticize

So knowing when to criticize and when not to is important, but then so is knowing how to do it. How can you get someone to listen, to accept your opinion in a constructive way? How can you avoid a personal attack, or at least avoid such an appearance?

It can be a fine line between denouncing someone’s ideas and insulting who they are. A person’s strongly-held belief can be a cornerstone of their identity. In that case, condemning the idea may seem akin to condemning the person. That is no way to get someone to keep an open mind, and get them to consider other points of view.

So really, there are two closely-related questions: When should you criticize someone? And how should you criticize someone in order to get them to listen?

Related questions: How can we encourage debate? What words have the most power? How important is respect? What makes a good friend? How can we encourage meaningful conversation?

How Can We Encourage Meaningful Conversation?

Sometimes it seems like conversation is a dying art.

We don’t talk much anymore. In-depth discussions have been replaced with small talk. Long, rambling phone calls are now five second Vine videos. A ten page, hand-written letter is now a text message.

Why is this?

Generally, there are many reasons for this change. Technology, in the form of smart phones and social media, encourages brevity. We are warned to avoid controversial topics as a way of keeping the peace. In addition, an entire generation of young adults have grown up online, where tone of voice and body language are non-existent.

As a result, we grow ever more isolated from those around us. People are not confronted with differing opinions. We don’t often talk to people with opposing views, and when we do it devolves to a shouting match. Violence is increasingly more common. Consequently, entire communities are dismissed and ignored.

Is it all bad?

And yet, we still crave conversation. We want to be intellectually stimulated. Ted Talks, for example, are wildly popular, and can be thought of as the first half of a conversation. The vlogbrothers, Hank and John Green, are YouTube celebrities based on their ongoing weekly video chats. So the desire exists in each of us for communication of ideas, and the act of sharing them with our friends and acquaintances.

So how can we revive the art of conversation? How do we overcome our dependency on the endless Facebook newsfeed scroll, and engage each other in an actual dialogue? Can we recapture the give and take, the challenge of ideas, the talk for sake of the talk? In short, to be exposed to new ideas and new points of view?

How can we encourage meaningful conversation?

Related questions: What do we have in common? How can we encourage debate? Are we too busy? How can we become better listeners? What do you get out of social media?