Sunday, December 20, 2009

Looking for Help with Burr Removal?

The words of some men are thrown forcibly against you and adhere like burrs.
-Henry David Thoreau, naturalist and author (1817-1862)

When we reach a certain age (different for each of us, but usually in the early 20s) we feel pretty sure that we make up our own "minds" about what we think and believe. Thoreau thought differently (as he did about many things) and contends that our verbal skin provides a good surface for the prickly words of others. We bristle with these words without realizing, in many cases, where we picked them up. They just "seem right" and we defend them as our own even when presented with plausible evidence that we have picked up somebody else's questionable cockle burr instead of the wise fruit of experience plucked by our own hands.

Wendell Johnson encouraged us to ask two questions about beliefs: What do you mean? and How do you Know? While these can prove quite useful in conversation, we can also benefit from asking ourselves the same questions. If we have trouble explaining what we mean, or showing how we know, we might suspect the presence of a cockle burr. With that awareness we also acquire the ability to evaluate the belief and decide, deliberately, whether we want to keep believing or brush the burr from our "mental" clothes.

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