Posted by: Brad Stanford | October 27, 2013

Defenitions Of Terms

When making peace, one of the earliest steps is to make sure there is a shared glossary of words.

If I say I love something, what do I mean?
I love pizza.
I love flying.
I love my wife.

If at this point I say I love freedom, what does it mean?

When making peace, we often have to change our own way of communicating to be as clear as we possibly can. Therefore, in a communication-critical scenario, I would use these words instead:

Pizza is one of my favorite foods.
Flying is very enjoyable for me.
There is no one else I am closer to than my wife.

Sure there’s still room for improvement there, but you can see the dramatic change in the approach, and how it communicates differently.

In real life it plays out like this:

Person 1: Are you for Obamacare?
Person 2: No.
Person 1: So you want people to die?

To Person 1, the definition of “Obamacare” is “making sure no one dies when death was preventable”. To Person 2, “Obamacare” is the government running a healthcare system, which is destined to end up like all other government programs, but now it’s messing with people’s health, not just their vehicle registration.

So Person 1 was actually asking, “Are you, like me, glad that people won’t have to die because of lack of care?” expecting this to be a rhetorical question. The surprise answer from Person 2 is offensive.

But Person 2 is answering the question he heard: “Do you support the government interfering with our personal decisions about our health?” The response of Person 1 is surprising, because Person 1 didn’t ask about death, he asked about the government running health care.

This happens a bazillion times a day across all peoples around the world. Some of these misunderstandings are small and simply cause the husband to pick up hamburger buns on his way home instead of hot dog buns. But when it comes to discussing The Big Deals in society, it’s a given that discussions will start this way, and never recover.

When in a situation where two sides need to talk, defining your terms up front takes care of this problem. In reality, though, we have no idea what we’re about to say, so defining terms and patiently restating a previous sentence is what must be done.
Person 1: Are you for Obamacare?
Person 2: No.
Person 1: So you want people to die?
Moderator: You two are not talking about the same thing. Person 1, would you like to discuss whether or not the current plans for healthcare will function, or would you like to talk about the role of government in healthcare in the grand scheme of things?

If there is no moderator, it’s time to backtrack:
Person 1: Are you for Obamacare?
Person 2: No.
Person 1: So you want people to die?
Person 2: No.
Person 1: So why aren’t you for Obamacare?!?
Person 2: I’m sorry – I don’t understand. When you say, “For Obamacare,” does that, to you, mean being, “For the government caring enough about us to help us out with one of life’s greatest expenses, thereby preventing deaths for those who could not previously afford health care?”
Person 1: Duh!
Person 2: Oh! Well, I suppose that would be nice if it was possible for that to happen, but since that’s not actually happening, and is, in fact, making things more unaffordable, and therefore causing more harm than good, I can’t say that I’m all that excited about it.

By stopping the conversation long enough to define terms, the conversation can now progress to a more focused point, with both parties understanding what the point is: the promise of policies, vs. the reality of policies.

The caveat here is that you need patience and a desire to understand the other person to be able to do this in the middle of day-to-day life. Even I, an eternal optimist, think that the number of people are that strong is quite low these days.


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