Becoming a Critical Thinker Part 2: The Meaning of Words
What do you understand when someone speaks?
Do you really understand what they meant to say? Or, have you already interpreted their meaning, even before they have finished speaking?
Two thoughts come to my mind right now. One is something I have read that pokes fun at the English and the Americans … "two peoples, divided by a common language." The other thought is commonly called Active Listening and I would like to re-label that to Critical Understanding because the issue I see is not just about listening, it's about all our sensory input.
I think George Carlin, the comedian, was a master at making us laugh at our usage of language and its meaning. Here are some examples:
When someone is impatient and says, 'I haven't got all day,' I always wonder, how can that be? How can you not have all day?
Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?
I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, 'Where's the self-help section?' She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.
One can never know for sure what a deserted area looks like.
What does it mean to pre-board? Do you get on before you get on?
The reason I talk to myself is that I'm the only one whose answers I accept.
Critical thinkers are questioners.
And George Carlin's questions might just be posed to be funny, but they are interesting examples of dissecting what someone has said. Are you really trying to understand what you read, hear, see, touch or smell? I know it's contextual to the situation you find yourself in, but are you just accepting the situational input, as presented, as truth? Do you really understand the meaning behind the message?
To me the last quote from Carlin holds something special for those of you who want to become a Critical Thinker.
Carlin says that he accepts the answers he himself provides … I think the reason is because he knows what he meant by the words he used and the inflections he added to them.
Clear communication is important to sharing and gaining a clear understanding. If the message you hear can be interpreted in different ways, it is important that you ask questions to clarify it.
Carlin also says that he talks to himself. Are you talking to yourself? If you have an important message to share you should be talking to yourself. If it is something you are writing for others to read, are you rereading it out loud to yourself? It will help you see if what you have written is clear in its intent. If you are going to share it verbally with others, remember that your audience won't be listening critically, and they might misinterpret what you are saying.