Talking about ideas is harder than it seems

One girl’s expedition into the uncharted territory of being a fully functioning member of society

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Last week I did my best to converse in terms of ideas rather than events or people. As the saying goes, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” In my last column, I attributed the quote to Eleanor Roosevelt, but as it turns out, it was originally said by one Henry Thomas Buckle.

I love thinking conceptually about the nature of life, humanity and morality, but that doesn’t mean I always talk about it. All too often, I find myself gossiping with my coworkers or friends about what someone did or what happened last week, rather than engaging in ideological discourse.

While I was unable to find studies specifically on the minds of those who think in broader, more abstract ways, I did find information on people who think metaphorically.

According to a paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, those who think metaphorically are better able to understand and interpret the emotions of others, as well as change their interpretation of a given scenario for the better. In other words, thinking metaphorically may help people be nicer and more positive.

Metaphors are an example of thinking in terms of ideas over events. To construct a metaphor one has to look past the immediate situation and relate it to a more abstract idea. It follows that people who think conceptually would produce more metaphors.

One idea that I’ve been considering for months is that of how language affects our reality. I read “1984” by George Orwell in January, and ever since, I’ve been wondering whether humans shape their reality through language.

In “1984,” a language is being developed that will prevent the human race from ever rebelling against the totalitarian government, because the words to do so won’t exist. Words for freedom, liberty, rebellion, bravery and love will be eradicated, along with any other possible way to express those concepts.

If the words to express reality don’t exist, does the reality exist?

While I would say yes, reality does exist outside of human expression of that reality, there are definite ways in which language affects our perceptions of the world.

According to a super interesting article published in The Edge, the way our language works affects the way we see the world in fairly dramatic ways. For example, some languages base nearly every spatial description off of the four cardinal directions.

Instead of right leg, it’s southeast leg, and that descriptor can change depending on which direction the person is facing. This aspect of the language has given its speakers an incredible ability to navigate in ways previously thought impossible.

Those who speak that language also see time differently; when asked to arrange photos in chronological order they nearly always arrange them East to West, no matter which direction they were originally facing.

Instead of right to left like an English speaker, or left to right like a Hebrew speaker, they see time as East to West. That is fascinating. There are a variety of examples in the article that explore the way language variation changes the way people see basic objects and colors, as well.

Ideas make the world go ‘round people.

Next week I’m going to adopt a new inspirational quote as my motto every day and apply it to every possible situation.