Category Archives: phi-Life-sophy

The philosophy around life and the life within philosophy. Articles in this category view everyday life through a philosophical lens.

Who Are You?

If I asked you to tell me about yourself, you’d probably tell me your name, your gender, your ethnicity, your job, your religious beliefs (if any), your musical taste, your marital status, your education status, your pet ownership status, your Zodiac sign, your political allegiance and if you’re an introvert or extrovert.  Which is great–those things would help me get to know you some.  However, none of those things are really who or what you are, they are merely labels.

And labels, well, they kind of suck.

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Labels are reductive, they divide us and limit us.  They give us a reason to fight rather than unite.  They prevent individuality by making us conform to definitions and group allegiance rather than conforming to our own authenticity.  They cause us to generalize people instead of looking at each person as a special case because it’s easier that way.  They take away from what it is to be human and replace it with a facade.  They make it difficult to discuss ideas because people ascribe those ideas to the label rather than the person, which causes arguments rather than understanding–especially if the people fall under different labels. 

You are more than a label or an identity.  You are more than your beliefs and experiences.  You are more than a gender, a race, a religion, a political party or an age.  You are a human.  A soul.  Like the rest of us.

Instead of discussing political reform as a concept, we blame conservatives for only aiding the rich and blame liberals for making the government too big and expensive.  Instead of talking about gender equality or freedom of belief, we blame feminists for male-bashing, “meninists” for feminist bashing, Muslims for terrorist attacks and we blame Christians for Bible-thumping. 

We don’t agree with conspiracy theorists because they’re all obviously crazy and we never listen to scientists because they’re always changing their minds and talking down to us if we can’t keep up.  We know athletes are overpaid douchebags and we know mathletes will never lose their virginities. We know stoners are all losers and we know straight-edge people are all winners.  We know people from rough areas are bad asses and we know people from gated communities are yuppies.  We know everyone who wears flannel and tight jeans are hipsters while everyone wearing hoodies, baggy jeans and sneakers are thugs.  We know cops are corrupt, politicians are shady, women are emotional and men are aggressive.

We know so much about others based on their labels, don’t we?  So much that we don’t even need to get to know them before believing we know them.  Which only makes it easier for us to judge and gives us more opportunities to misunderstand.  Because labels are merely facets of who we are and none of them are really definitive or say anything about our personalities. We cling to them to feel a sense of identity and belonging, but that’s all it is, a sense.  Not the real thing. 

So when people ask about you, try telling them about your passions and hobbies.  Tell them about your quirky sense of humor, your love for cinnamon pancakes or the dream you are working on manifesting in the future.  Tell them how you can’t sleep at night without having the television on or how you consume fifty cups of coffee a day.  Tell them you built your own computer or that you travel somewhere new each year. 

Tell them what things in life still give you goosebumps. 

Tell them all of that instead because it reveals more of who and what you are as a person than labels do.  The labels give us status and constructed identities, but telling someone you get goosebumps when checking out new books at the library tells them more about you than the fact you are a data analyst.  Because we are always so much more than our constructed identities.  We are human, we are souls and we are complex webs of thoughts, memories, passions, dreams, attitudes, outcomes and personalities.

Each one of us is a universe.  So ask yourself, who are you?

The Truth is, You Can’t Handle the Truth

“Always remember that you are absolutely unique.  Just like everyone else.”  –Margaret Mead

Every set of eyes is a lens through which each individual mind sees the world.  A lens crafted from beliefs, knowledge, and personal experiences — shaped by environments, circumstances, chance, choice, and peers.   No two sets of lenses or individual minds are the same, largely because we all have our own perspectives and points of view:  each of us sees the world differently, thinks differently, and experiences things differently.  As such, we all live our own realities in our own worlds and though we may not see it, we live by our own definitions, rules, and interpretations as well.  One could say none of us are living in the same reality as anyone else, despite the fact we all exist in the same physical world and work together to keep it running.

But this raises the question:  if life, existence, and reality is different for all of us, then what can we consider truth?  Some people say truth is “fact” or “universal knowledge,” such as it is a fact Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States, or it is universal knowledge that washing one’s hands helps prevent illness.  However, the President of the United States serves one term at a time and is re-elected, which means John F. Kennedy was technically the 44th president — just as George Washington was both the first and second president.  Because of this definition of presidency, Barack Obama is actually the 56th and 57th President of the United States.  In a similar vein, washing one’s hands builds the soap tolerance of germs and bacteria on your skin.  Because of this, washing your hands too much can make you more susceptible to illness by making the germs you frequently come into contact with more resistant to antibacterial agents.  Again, the truth here lies in the context by which it is presented.  Because we all think, experience, and believe differently, we all see truth, facts, and knowledge through different contexts or lenses.

 

Let’s get epistemic

Now that I’ve diluted the truth of a fact and an example of universal knowledge, does that mean neither were true to begin with, or they were both always only partially true?  Can they still be considered a fact and a piece of knowledge despite only being true when given a certain context?   To answer these two questions we must ask a third question:  How can we know we know what we know is true?

For instance, you “know” you are reading this post, but how can you be sure?  You may be dreaming right now or your entire life could be a dream, the world and/or reality around you could be an illusion cast by some all-powerful being or very clever scientists, you could’ve been abducted by aliens last night in your sleep and placed in a holographic world where everyone you know has been replaced by impostors.  Perhaps you’re really schizophrenic and are really in a padded room somewhere imagining your entire life — or at least imagining that you are reading this blog right now.

It’s hard to know if any of that is the case or not, let alone know you know that’s the case or not.  And even if you know something is the case, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is true:  We used to know the world was flat and now we know the dinosaurs were killed off by meteors, but we disproved the first theory many years ago (so we never really “knew” it and it was never true to begin with), and we may do the same with the second one eventually and deliver it to the same fate.  Truth and knowledge are very tricky concepts and we seem to take them for granted on a daily basis.

So what’s left?  Individual truth, for one.  What we as individuals know to be true based on our own perspectives, experiences, thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions.  You know you aren’t dreaming because you woke up today and have had to breathe all day to stay alive.  You know washing your hands kills bacteria and prevents infection, and you know Barack Obama was the 44th person elected President of the United States.  You may even know the Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary offers a definition of “president” as “4: the presiding officer of a governmental body,” and since “presiding” is present tense, a president serving two terms counts as a single president.  However, you may also know that the print edition of the Merriam -Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary Eleventh Edition offers a definition of “presidency” as “2:  the term during which a president holds office,” and since “term” is a singular word, a presidency only applies to a single term.  Because of these different beliefs, thoughts, and definitions, it can be true that Barack Obama is both the 44th president and the 56th and 57th president.  However, we also know presidents can’t serve more than two terms, so now we’ve reached a contradiction and must throw this out the window.  We could say Barack Obama could either be the 44th president or the 56th and 57th president, but that makes truth conditional and therefore, relative.  And if truth is fact or universal knowledge, it can’t be relative.  We just reached another contradiction.  In these cases we tend to go with the answer given to us by a credible source, and the websites for the White House, The National Museum of American History, and Wikipedia all say Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States.  But just because they say it is true, doesn’t mean it is — we only give them the power to make definitions and create truth for the rest of us.

“Right is right, even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.”  –William Penn

So how can we know what we know is true?  We can use reason and logic, but due to their very own designs we would still be skeptical of any truth and look for ways to verify it by falsifying the other possibilities and testing our theories (if we are to be philosophical and scientific about it).  So for instance, you could reason that perhaps you did have to breathe all day but that doesn’t necessarily mean you haven’t been dreaming.  As for washing your hands and who the 44th president is, who is to say that hand washing isn’t just “Nanny State” propaganda to keep P&G sales in the black or that the real first  president was assassinated and removed from history books to keep the future country from knowing about him (or her…).

There are many different ways your reasoning can go depending on the context or lens through which you see truth.  You can use your own knowledge, interpretations, beliefs, and experiences to know that you know something, however you have to justify and validate each of them by determining if your sources are good, your interpretations are logical, your beliefs are valid, and your experiences are generalizable and unbiased.  It’s a lot of work, to be honest.  And over time, searching for verifiable and justifiable truth leaves you with a lot of skepticism and very few truths, if not just only one:  You think and therefore exist, “Cogito ergo sum,” in the words of Descartes.  But even then your thoughts may not be your own.  Your thoughts could actually belong to a universal unconsciousness or a God, which means you exist but only as a vessel of something much bigger than yourself and not as your own, governable entity.  At that point your foundation of truth crumbles, and everything either becomes pure “subscribed” belief or the entire lack thereof — sincere faith or absolute nihilism.  You know and believe Barack Obama is the 44th president because of how you define a presidency, you know and believe hand washing prevents illness because it kills germs and the Medieval times were both very dirty and very diseased.  You know and believe your whole life hasn’t been a dream, illusion, or hallucination because if it was, things would be much better.  Despite the facts, they are all supported by and arranged from beliefs, all the way down to the simple belief that you exist on Earth as a human and the world around you is real.  But ultimately your knowledge and beliefs can always turn out to be false given access to the right (or true) context.

 

The truth is out there

Imagine something being true even though no one believes it, knows it, or is capable of understanding it.  That truth is an unknown.  It is still a truth or a fact, but no one knows it exists, believes it exists, or is capable of understanding its existence  —  which makes this truth unattainable or speculative at best.  For instance, say the entire universe is a pebble and every galaxy in the universe is an atom or molecule that makes up that pebble, which is sitting on a creek bed in a forest somewhere that is inhabited by the Gods of all religions and mythologies.  In this case we don’t know the truth because we don’t have access to the right context — being on the creek bed and able to see the pebble and that it contains our entire universe — but we can “know” what is true or real to us based on our own knowledge, experience, and points of view.  None of us can know our universe is a pebble on a creek bed in a forest somewhere, but we can know that we live on Earth, that Earth is in a solar system within the Milky Way galaxy, and that the Andromeda galaxy is relatively nearby.  We don’t have access to the right context to know the truth of our universe pebble, so it is unknown despite being true.

To accommodate for unknown truths, relative truths, individual truths, and subscribed truths, we have our chosen beliefs.  We can simply choose what we believe is true, which is typically what we do to help us understand and navigate through life.  For instance, I can choose to believe our universe is a pebble on a creek bed in a forest somewhere that is inhabited by the Gods of every religion and mythology (you’re free to believe this too), but that doesn’t make my belief true.  For it to be true it needs to be justified and for it to be justified it needs to have substantial evidence, and for this particular truth to be true it must also be seen through the right context, frame of reference, and mode of presentation ((the last two are fancy ways of saying point of view and the means by which you came to know something).  But all that is really needed is enough evidence to convince me or anyone else to believe it is true or to have faith that it is.  So people can believe Barack Obama was the 56th and 57th president because their source of choice defines a “presidency” as serving one term, so serving two terms counts as two presidencies.  People can also believe washing one’s hands helps prevent illness and control the spread of disease, but only in moderate and prudent usage.  Both would be true for their contexts, frames of reference, and modes of presentation.  But through a different lens from a different point of view and learned though some other means, the opposite of both claims can also be true.  Maybe some people are allergic to soap and prone to infection when using it.  To them, “washing one’s hands prevents illness” is absolutely false despite being true for many.

Astrophysicists can choose to believe that we live on Earth, that Earth is in a solar system within the Milky Way galaxy, and that the Andromeda galaxy is relatively nearby.  They have plenty of evidence to justify the truth of their beliefs, so I wouldn’t blame them for believing those things.  But even then, perhaps the Earth and/or solar system is like a terrarium and the universe is an illusion or projection that aliens created to mislead us.  Or maybe NASA is making up stories and Photoshopping pictures so we keep giving them money to stare into space with telescopes.  Maybe everything around you is a concerted effort to keep you thinking you live in a progressing world with scientists, teachers, and businessmen when really the entire planet is an intergalactic zoo that aliens visit when they’re on vacation or win free tickets from a radio station.  Of course, these alternatives seem extremely unlikely so we discard them as possibilities the way we’ve been conditioned to.  But the fact that they were thought of makes them legitimate possibilities, along with thousands of other theories (according to philosopher David Lewis’s Law of Attention).  And we still don’t know if there are any unknown truths that falsify the beliefs of these hypothetical astrophysicists, so even if they are true today that doesn’t mean they will be true tomorrow:  inductive reasoning versus deductive reasoning.

 

Takeaway

Considering all of this, is truth something worth pursuing?  Or is it much wiser to ignore the concept of truth due to our inability to understand or fully attain it, and instead just focus on the things we “know” and the things that are real to us as individuals (basically, our beliefs, knowledge, and experiences)?  It’s the age-old question of objectivity versus subjectivity.  Humans have been discussing this very thing for thousands of years and still haven’t come up with a satisfying answer.  Maybe we never will.  Some things are just too elusive for our minds to grasp.  Though there may be a hint in the quote at the beginning of this post:

“Always remember that you are absolutely unique.  Just like everyone else.”  –Margaret Mead

Despite our different lenses, minds, experiences, perspectives, beliefs, knowledge sets, interpretations, and circumstances, we all have things in common.  We are all unique, for one.  We’re all human and we all live on Earth.  We all want to love and be loved, we all have our own lives and our own stories (though to be fair, none of us can actually know if anyone else thinks or exists as anything more than a hallucination, so this is all belief at best).  So perhaps “truth” is simply anything that ties us all together to experience, think, and believe the same thing.  Then again, truth may be nothing more than what we consider it to be and vary greatly from person to person.

The truth is, you can’t handle the truth.  It is sand between your fingers and the wind blowing by.  You can feel it, see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, or otherwise sense it or perceive it — but you can’t hold it and you can’t keep it.  This is why the truth is different for everyone — it is an elephant being touched by six blind men, everyone experiences it differently.

Despite some of my examples being farfetched they are very applicable to everyday life.  Asking the same kinds of questions about a variety of topics and subjects helps sharpen your critical thinking skills and trains your brain to decipher the truth of every claim and concept.  Whether you are being exposed to politics, getting information from the media, dealing with a salesperson, trying to learn the truth of a situation, or evaluating whether you or someone else knows the truth at all, this will help you find it by stripping away lies, misinformation, propaganda, and false beliefs.  It’s a philosophical practice called “epistemology,” and after reading this post you are now initiated in the practice.  Use it wisely friends.

If you are interested in reading more posts like this, please let me know in the comments section below!

Corporate Personhood meets Personal Business

If corporations are recognized as people in the eyes of the law and thus can enjoy certain constitutional rights, can people be legally identified as businesses and thus enjoy certain tax exemptions and benefits?  It’s an interesting question that fights the fire of corporate America with the fire of America’s humanity.

Think of it like this.  Our work paychecks are our revenue, and our business is a self-investment capitalist venture that generates revenue by providing services for our clients (e.g. employers and the companies we work for).  We have expenses that are similar to business expenses, such as rent, living expenses (similar to a business’s upkeep expenses), utility expenses, and travel expenses.  These expenses add up and for many people, they consume more than half of a year’s salary.  For many other people, they consume the entire year’s salary.  Still, we have to pay taxes on our full salaries despite the financial burdens our expenses place on us.  This is something most businesses are not required to do, as they can use their expenses to offset their taxable income and reduce or eliminate most of their taxes in order to protect their profits.  While people can do the same thing by claiming deductions, there are a lot of restrictions on the things we can deduct and how much we can deduct off our incomes for each item.  Because people aren’t able to take advantage of their expenses in the way businesses and corporations can (unless they are sole proprietors or their own businesses), many people don’t turn much of a profit at the end of the year as most of their wages go to paying for their living expenses.

Now, by asking if people can be identified as their own businesses I don’t necessarily mean sole proprietorship, where self-employed individuals claim themselves as their own businesses.  Though in many cases individuals would be classified as sole proprietors and would be eligible for certain advantages, such as offsetting their incomes with their expenses and being taxed less by the IRS or not taxed at all if their expenses are greater than their incomes.  Which of course is a very enticing advantage.

Rather, what I am asking is can people be legally identified as businesses whether they are employed, self-employed, or unemployed?  This way people could be able to form business partnerships with other individuals such as friends, family, and spouses — or even form partnerships with their employers — in order to receive certain tax advantages.  Additionally, they could report net losses if unemployed or making low wages in order to avoid paying income tax.  They could spend their time doing charity work and philanthropy and count themselves as nonprofit organizations, which come with their own tax breaks, advantages, and insurance premiums.  Individuals could also be identified as Limited Liability Companies (LLC) and be protected from some or all of the liability of their actions and debts, and then decide whether they want to be taxed as sole proprietors, partnerships, or corporations instead of taxed as individuals — all of which come with their own sets of advantages and disadvantages.

For instance, with  S corporations the business itself does not have to pay federal income tax, but the shareholders do after reporting the corporation’s income or loss on their individual tax returns (shareholders in the case of people being their own businesses would be individuals and their business partners, financiers, or spouse).  So before paying their taxes, S corporations subtract their expenses from their revenue and are taxed on the profits that are left afterwards.

This would be the equivalent of you making $25,000 in one year but spending $10,000 on rent (a living expense), $5,000 on food (another living expense), $2,000 on gas (yet another expense), and $4,000 on other expenses (such as car repairs, business supplies, internet and phone bills), leaving you with only $4,000 in income that year as $21,000 of your revenue was spent on expenses.  Which in turn means only $4,000 of the $25,000 you made would be taxable income.  And since your income is so low you wouldn’t have to pay as much federal income tax and might even qualify for certain tax breaks.  This benefit also applies to sole proprietors, however they have unlimited liability for their debts and can be audited by the IRS or sued by creditors for not making money any given year.  On the other hand, as a LLC an individual wouldn’t be as liable or responsible for his or her debts, which may even include credit card and student loan debt depending on the individual’s situation.  While you may not be doing any work at your place of residence and your food may not be in the form of business lunches, you do need to pay for rent and food in order to survive and to continue making money (or to keep your money-making “business” afloat, if you will).  You also need to pay credit card bills to keep your credit in good standing and keep your business a reputable one.  The same applies to school loans, which are technically business investments in yourself that you plan on seeing returns from in the future.  These are all expenses that need to be paid for you — an individual business — to continue operating smoothly and making money.  It’s only fair that these expenses offset our revenues before our income is taxed, rather than taxing us on our salaries without taking the majority of our necessary expenses into consideration, while handing us deductions with limitations attached to them that hardly do anything to benefit us.

The reason I ask is because corporations are allowed to assume personhood in order to engage in lawsuits, they are protected by the Fourteenth Amendment and guaranteed certain constitutional rights (freedom of speech and the right to petition, for example), they can enter contracts, they can own property, and they are legally responsible for themselves as people instead of employers, shareholders, and managers being responsible for a corporation and the corporation’s debts.  Because of this, corporations can act independently of their owners since they are classified as their own people, which means the owners aren’t necessarily responsible for the actions of their corporations in a legal sense.  It’s a nice little loophole that reduces the accountability of CEOs and allows corporations to donate to political campaigns because their contributions are considered “freedom of speech” that don’t necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the CEOs and owners:  the corporation made the donation using its own, God-given free will.

Due to the laws of the United States, corporations are legally treated as people unless otherwise noted by a judge.  As stated in 1 U.S.C. §1 (United States Code):

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, unless the context indicates otherwise– the words “person” and “whoever” include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals.  –From Wikipedia

So if corporations are recognized as people and are protected by constitutional rights, can people be recognized as businesses and receive the tax benefits that come with it (along with being eligible for small-business stimulus packages)?  This is already possible and happens frequently in the cases of sole proprietors as I mentioned earlier, but I’m talking about people claiming themselves as businesses even if they aren’t self-employed or if they work for a company.  Work is business regardless of what kind of work it is.  Employee and employer are doing business together as time and services are being exchanged for pay.  Since we own ourselves and we are trying to make money, we are technically our own businesses already and should qualify for at least some of these 31 small business tax deductions.  But it seems as if the tax laws do not recognize us as our own businesses or give us the same benefits as businesses receive.

If we were able to use all of our expenses to offset our incomes, then we would be taxed less (or not at all) and our finances would improve since we could essentially write off rent, gas, furniture, and groceries as “office operation expenses,” “equipment, furniture, and supplies expenses,”  living expenses, and other business expenses.  The collective quality of life in America would increase and people would have more money to make purchases, take out loans, and otherwise stimulate the economy.  Instead of punishing the people who make America happen everyday, we should be doing all we can to support the people and make it possible for them to live and spend freely:  for the sake of liberty and a stable economy.  After all, the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution refers to “We the people,” not “We the corporations.”  Perhaps it is time to stop investing so much of our faith and favor in the corporations and instead invest more in humanity.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this idea in the comments section below!

The Power of Words and Definitions

Words are powerful.  They shape how we understand concepts and the world around us, they determine how well we understand each other, and they can influence our beliefs, decisions, actions, and ethics.  Language is what allows us to communicate our thoughts and ideas with each other in a sophisticated fashion, so it is no surprise words have such an impact on us and our minds.  But you may be surprised to learn the overlooked details and nuances in language have the greatest influence on us:  definitions, connotations, and interpretations, to name a few.

Let’s do a quick experiment before getting into the nitty-gritty.  Take a look at the following sets of phrases.  The phrases in each set refer to the same thing but the words used have slightly different connotations.  As you read each set reflect on what each phrase makes you think about and how it makes you feel about the thing in question:

Mobile phone and Cell phone

Bathing suit and Swimsuit

Interrogation room and Interview room

Lower-class families and Low-income families (also Middle-class families and Working-class families)

Drugs, Pharmaceuticals, and Medicines

Tennis shoes and Sneakers

Water and Dihydrogen Oxide

Knife (as a weapon) and Knife (as a tool)

Cottage cheese and Curdled milk

As you can see, your thoughts about each item and concept changed depending on the words used to describe and define them.  This is probably nothing new to you given the semantic strides in political correctness over the years.  However, there is real power in the way we phrase and define things that can have a direct, psychological impact on us and our lives.  And more often than not, that power slips right under our noses undetected and influences us on multiple levels to varying degrees.

Define Definition Word Meaning Dictionary

 

A good example of this is the phrase “cheat day” when referring to the one day a week people allow themselves to stray from their diets.  Calling it a “cheat day” may make dieters feel guilty about eating, as if they committed some nutritional crime and should be punished with additional dieting and exercise to make up for it.  On a practical level, calling it a “cheat day” reinforces the diet by making people believe they are cheating themselves out of a healthy lifestyle.  However, it can also make their diets seem strict and unyielding which can cause people to stop dieting in favor of a more lenient lifestyle.  By changing the words and calling it a “reward day,” dieters may instead feel like they are rewarding themselves for their good behavior and see their diets in a more positive light.  This is operational conditioning at its finest:  when people are rewarded for something, they’re likely to repeat the behavior that led to the reward.  By calling it a “reward day,” dieters will probably feel better about themselves and their diets because they feel like they’re being rewarded for dieting rather than cheating their diets.

Another example is the difference between the phrases, “neutralizing a target” and “killing a person.”  They can be taken to mean the same thing, however the way they are phrased leaves different impressions on those given the order.  Soldiers and tactical police officers may feel guilty about shooting someone when ordered to “kill that person” and may not even agree with the order.  But if they were told to “neutralize the target” they may feel a little better about what they were ordered to do because it’s no longer a person they’re shooting, it’s a target.  And they aren’t killing the target, they’re neutralizing it.    The subject becomes dehumanized and instead of sounding like murder, “neutralizing a target” sounds a bit more humane — as if the soldier or officer is simply flipping a switch or eliminating some inanimate threat.  There is no blood on anyone’s hands because the target was targeted for a reason, and it wasn’t “killed” but “neutralized.”

Because definitions, words, and ways of phrasing are so powerful, they play a very important role in the social sphere.  Contrasting movements and organizations use definitions to structure their arguments and align their beliefs against their opposition.  Pro-life supporters, for example, define the “beginning of life” as conception while pro-choice supporters define the “beginning of life” as birth.  This is done as a rhetorical appeal to people’s emotions and their reasoning to get them to fall in line with one side of the debate over the other.  Moreover, pro-life supporters define fetuses and embryos as human beings (which makes abortion murder), while pro-choice supporters do not define fetuses or embryos as human beings, but as human.  The difference?  Pro-choice supporters define fetuses and embryos as being biologically human, but not as self-sufficient human beings with protected rights, which makes all the difference in the world when regarding abortion (it isn’t murder, it’s more like removing a humanoid tumor or parasite).  An interesting article about the difference between NASA’s definition of “life” and the pro-life definition of “life” can be found here, and an equally interesting article about the language used by pro-life supporters and pro-choice supporters can be found here.  To prevent myself from showing bias, the first link is to a pro-life website and the second link is to a pro-choice website.

Also interesting is how these supporters label themselves.  They aren’t pro-abortion and anti-abortion, they are pro-life and pro-choice:  both words quickly summarize their values — life and choice, respectively — and also contain the positive prefixes “pro.”  This second observation is important because as any communications scholar would tell you, positive words and phrases are more influential than negative words and phrases, so people will respond better to organizations that are “pro” something rather than “anti” something.

In the legal arena, how lawyers define concepts and objects can be the difference between winning and losing a case.  For instance, during the George Zimmerman trial the defense claimed Zimmerman was using self-defense because he believed his life was in danger.  The prosecution claimed Zimmerman was not using self-defense because he was the aggressor and instead Trayvon Martin was the one defending himself.  On one hand (the defense’s), self-defense is defined as protecting oneself from the threat of danger by an aggressor and on the other hand (the prosecution’s) self-defense is defined as protecting oneself from the threat of danger by an aggressor.  Identical definitions.  The difference is the defense labeled or “defined” Martin as the aggressor while the prosecution labeled Zimmerman as the aggressor based on the actions and motivations of both men.  They took the same legal concepts of “self-defense” and “aggressor” but offered different interpretations of those concepts in order to sway the judge, the jury, and the public.  The power of definitions hard at work.

Bathroom Wall Graffiti

 

Slogans and taglines are also good examples of the power of words.  For instance, Coca-Cola’s tagline “Open Happiness” versus Pepsi’s new tagline “Live for Now.”  Neither of these sayings have ANYTHING to do with the products but have EVERYTHING to do with their brands.  Coke is offering happiness while Pepsi encourages you to live in the moment.  Your soft-drink preference, believe it or not, has less to do with how they taste and more to do with the feelings you associate with the brand and the words it uses (with some exceptions).  Another example is McDonald’s tagline “I’m lovin’ it” versus Burger King’s tagline “Have it your way.”  The first ensures you’ll love their burgers and the second ensures your burgers will be the way you want them.  Your fast-food preference may very well come down to which tagline you value more (though there are always other factors).  Yet another example, President Barrack Obama’s most recent campaign tagline “Forward” versus Mitt Romney’s campaign tagline “Keep America American.”  The former suggests progression, movement, and continuance while the latter suggests patriotism, exclusivity, and vanishing American ideals.  Both taglines appealed to the candidate’s respective political bases and embody the main message each candidate wanted to get across to voters.

So here’s the takeaway from all of this.  Words, definitions, and ways of phrasing things have enormous influential power that can shape everything from our food choices to our beliefs on controversial topics such as abortion.  Take the theologies of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.  They are essentially the same religion with the same stories and morals and Messiahs.  The difference mainly lies in how they distinguish prophets from deities, which arises from how they define prophets and deities.  By giving more consideration to the meanings and definitions people grant to words and concepts you will not only be more aware of how they influence you, but you will also be able to resist their influence and use it to your advantage.  Most importantly, you will be able to infer the motivations behind particular phrases such as “neutralizing a target” and “interview room” as opposed to “interrogation room,” which can help you  determine the intentions of others and their understanding of certain concepts and constructs.

I’ll leave you with some empowering alternatives to common, everyday words and phrases you can use to develop positive mindsets:

Instead of failure try work in progress.

Instead of obstacle or problem try challenge.

Instead of short-coming or fault try opportunity for improvement.

Instead of waste of time try progressive hiatus.

Instead of mistake try learning experience.

Instead of off-track try detour.

Instead of regret try lesson learned.

What do you think about the power of words and definitions?  Do you know of any other influential phrases or interesting word pairings?  Share your thoughts below!

The ‘Like’ Button: More Than Meets the Eye

Out of all the features on Facebook, the “Like” button is probably the most frequently used and the least thought about.  Think about it.  We “like” statuses, comments, photos, and pages.  We like products and movies; events and groups.  We like a lot of things everyday, but we’re doing more than just clicking the Like button to express our affection for something.  It turns out we like certain things for certain reasons and not necessarily because we actually like them.  Sometimes we like things to express ourselves or open the channels of communication with people — to invite and initiate conversation.  Sometimes we like things despite not actually liking them and we just want to let our friends know we read what they had to say.  Because the Like button is so versatile, it could be considered one of the most important forms of nonverbal online communication we have (along with smileys and photo sharing).  So what all is in a Facebook like?  Read on to find out:

 

We “like” what we like

We like things, first and foremost, because we actually like them.  They make us laugh, they’re cool, they’re interesting, they’re something we agree with or enjoy, etc.  So we like these things to show the Facebook universe what we are into and to show the person/group that made the post we like what they shared.  This can include everything from pages for products and brands to pictures of kittens, sharp-witted comments, and statuses about our friends’ achievements.  We like these things, so we “like” them.  Simple enough.

 

We like to “like” our influences

We also ‘like’ things just because we like the person or page responsible for the post.  In Robert Cialdini‘s book, “Influence:  Science and Practice,” the author notes that we are more likely to be influenced — positively or negatively — when we like a person or brand.  He also observes that those who are likeable are more persuasive than those who are not as likeable and people who we perceive as bland.  We may not like what some people say — we may not even agree with their posts or find their posts particularly interesting — but if we like them (or if those people are especially likeable), we’re very likely to like what they post just because they are the ones who said it.

This can be seen very often with people who are popular in their social circles, with celebrities, and with influential brands and pages.  They may spew utter crap that is nonsensical and entirely irrelevant to you and your interests, but we transpose the likeability of their personality or social status onto the things they post and like them in return.  In effect, the like button becomes a voting booth where we cast our ballots for an online popularity contest.  And as you may have guessed, the more likes something has the more likely we are to give it another.

 

We “like” to be included

Sometimes liking is just an attempt to be included, whether it’s in the form of liking an event, liking a post on the newsfeed that has 100,000 likes already, or liking a comment that everyone else seems to like.  In these instances a Facebook like could very well be nothing more than an attempt to stand in with the crowd.  And it makes sense, we are social creatures — we did create social media.  We like to be connected with other people or with something bigger, so when we see a page that was liked by a few of our friends we’re likely to like that page as well so we can feel involved (a phenomena known as social proof – – AKA “doing as the Romans do” — which also brought up in Cialdini’s book as a “weapon of influence”).  And this isn’t a bad thing, as long as we don’t compromise our identities by liking things we don’t actually like — the social media equivalent of giving into peer pressure and social norms.

 

We “like” to be “liked” in return

Another function of the Like button is to encourage reciprocity with new (and old) Facebook friends by breaking the proverbial ice.  We like their statuses and pictures to show them we’re interested in what they’re posting and to encourage them to like the things we post in return.  We do this in person by agreeing with people, disclosing things about ourselves, doing favors, showing interest in what someone is saying, and listening attentively to what they say (all in hopes they’ll do the same for us).  Reciprocation is a social convention that helps deepen interpersonal relationships, and according to Cialdini’s book, even politicians use reciprocation by exchanging favors for supportive votes.  The Like button has the same effect as those actions and is a good way to engage Facebook friends we recently added or haven’t interacted with much.  Though, that isn’t to say liking what someone has posted ensures they will like what you post in return — but it will encourage them to consider doing so.

 

We “like” to show support

Sometimes we like things to show our support, such as Facebook pages for ideologies and social movements.  When we like these things we let others know what we are involved in and what is important to us:  Our political stances, religious beliefs, and issues that inspire the activist in us all.  Liking these things allows us to quickly express ourselves without having to think of something to say (the same goes for “sharing”) or without having to upload something to our photo albums.  Additionally, liking a page or group grants us access into a like-minded community.

Similarly, we also show our support to people on our friends lists by using the Like button.  Perhaps a friend is going through something difficult, such as the loss of a loved one or a strict diet of water and vegetables.  We like their posts regarding what they’re going through not necessarily because we actually like them, but to show our friends we support them.  In effect, the Like button becomes a virtual pat on the back that tells people we care about what they’re going through and we’re offering our moral support.  This can be a handy tool for when you don’t know what to say but still want your friends to know you see what they’re going through and you’re there for them.

 

We “like” to be sarcastic and vindictive

On the other hand there’s the tongue-in-cheek or “sarcastilike” purpose of the Like button.  For instance, say you warned your friend about something but he did it anyways and now has to suffer the consequences.  Liking his status about the consequence of his actions is a quick (and vindictive) way to say “I told you so.”

“Turns out whitewashing a fence isn’t as fun as Tom said it would be.  Whole afternoon wasted!”

Mark Twain likes this.

The Like button can also be used in a related manner for showing contempt or spite, such as liking your ex’s relationship change to single after breaking it off with his/her newest fling — or liking someone’s unfortunate horoscope reading.  And because we also like things to show our support it can sometimes be hard for people to tell if you’re being spiteful or encouraging, which offers some cover if you don’t want your motives to be exposed (but on the other hand, it can make your attempt to show support seem mean-spirited).

 

We “like” to be informed

Liking a status means you’ll be notified of new comments on that status, and sometimes that’s the only reason we like what someone posts.  In a similar vein, we may like a page because we want to see its posts or stay up to date with an event.  This function of the Facebook like is more closely related with Twitter’s “Follow” option, but it still implies you actually like the thing in question even if you don’t — which can be misleading.  The person liking your status may like what you said, or may just be nosy.  So, if you find your significant other liking everything you post it could mean you found someone who is genuinely interested in you, or it could indicate he/she has a jealous personality type.  Either way, good to know.


Who would’ve thought that simple little button could be so complex?

 

Are there any other uses of the Like button this article doesn’t cover?  Share them in the comments section below!

With Uncertainty Comes Possibility

Stars and space dust
The Horsehead Nebula.

There’s no telling what life has in store and somehow, that’s more comforting than a pre-determined and mapped out future.  Perhaps it’s because of the unlimited possibility that comes with not knowing what is going to happen next, or maybe it’s because you’ll always know that nothing stays the same forever.  Oceans evaporate and mountains crumble over time, kings and queens die, stars implode upon themselves and coal turns into diamond.  Change is constant.  Every passing second is an opportunity in bloom, an opportunity that remains invisible to the unopened or preoccupied eye.  All the while chance and choice dictate the changes that spread across the world in a ripple effect that eventually find their way to your doorstep.

You hear a knock on your door and are given the key to your destiny.  There’s no telling what is on the other side until you choose to open that door.  And even then you can still decide not to step through, out into the unknown.  But should you take that step you can rest assured that you dramatically increased the amount of possibilities available to you because with uncertainty comes possibility.  And with possibility comes excitement, opportunity, and potential.  With just a single step into the unknown you are living more than the person who has walked thousands of miles down a beaten path.  Anything can (and will) happen and as you take more steps on your journey the world opens up to you and reveals countless destinations or quick stops along the way, all inhabited by new people and more possibilities.  The adventurer cannot fail when he/she is walking through the unknown.  This is because the unknown is an adventure in itself.

There’s no telling what the future holds–the uncertainty of life is certain–and you can take comfort in that.  Because not knowing what lies on the next page is what makes life worth living.  Regardless of the circumstances, every passing second brings the possibility for change and opportunity.  And with them, another door to pass through.

The possibilities are truly endless.  Every beginning has an infinite number of ways to end.

There’s no telling where tomorrow can take you if you live for today.