In this week’s spotlight I would like to draw your attention to thinking. I have often spoken about life beliefs as analogous to a spider’s web in that they are all attached in some way—even our dissonant beliefs. So, as with the spider’s web, if we vibrate one strand, the entire web is affected. It is important to consider how we think in exactly this same interrelated way, for the basic elements of thought begin with concepts. Indeed, we can think of concepts as the atoms that build the molecules we know as propositions.
Let me unpack that some. Concepts are ideas that bind as molecules. Concepts include definitions, such as integrity, justice, fairness, freedom and so forth. All concepts are organized in a structure and are therefore as interrelated as the strands in a spider web, or the atoms in a molecule. The problem with concepts is that we do not necessarily agree on their meaning. Take the word fairness for example, is it fair to distribute the benefits of one person’s labor to another person who did not earn it? Is it fair for the person who earned something to keep it all while others go without? In other words, what is fairness and to whom?
We often find ourselves attempting to communicate today by sharing concepts only to discover that not only were we not adequately communicating, we actually disagree on what we thought was a shared concept. Speaking plainly—we all might believe in the concept of fairness but fail to agree on what fairness is.
Clearly our thinking may hold to concepts that betray the very meaning we wish for them to hold. For example, we may think that we believe in the concept of freedom only to discover that we really don’t. Let me give you a simple example. If we say freedom should provide that a person is free in the sense of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, insofar as they do no harm to another human being, then we are saying that they can believe whatever they choose to believe. Okay. Let’s pursue this just a bit to make it clear how conflict can arise. Let’s say someone wishes to raise fighting dogs and then fight them to the death. This may offend you but how is this any different then killing some wild animal like a deer? Or another example, one my wife finds disgusting is the religious practice of washing the floors of a temple with milk. She finds this upsetting due to the waste and problems inherent to farming practices, but for those who participate in this sacred spiritual practice it is a holy event. Once again, the concept of freedom gets lost in our differences.
How are we to use concepts then to properly think through difficult questions? The fact is, behind every concept is a set of definitions and inherent to our definitions is a priority based upon our life beliefs. As such, when we think through our concepts considering the possible ramifications due to differences in opinions, we are likely to discover that the very molecules that build our rational processes are corrupted by inequities, except where there is universal agreement.
Denotative vs Connotative
Every concept holds both denotative and connotative value points. Freedom denotes an idea that on its surface seems easy to agree upon, at least in our Western world. However, the connotative characteristics, those emotional values, will invariably lead to differences. Communication then becomes more difficult and uncertain unless we clearly define what it is that we mean by virtue of our use of any concept.
My suggestion—investigate your beliefs/concepts in an effort to understand what it is that you mean, so that you can be clear in your communications.
As always, thanks for the read and I appreciate your feedback.
NY Time Bestselling Author of Choices and Illusions