Monday, March 5, 2012

Some Thoughts on the Importance of Parsing

I've mentioned in the past that I am a hardcore parser.  I believe that approach is very important whenever we deal with things others have said - and the following is why. 

In the spirit of parsing (*grin*), the actual, dictionary definition of "to parse" is:
"To examine closely or subject to detailed analysis, especially by breaking up into components; to make sense of; comprehend."
I believe in parsing, because I believe in verbal and conceptual precision - and parsing is the only way other than deep conversation of which I am aware to get at the heart of what people actually say and write. This is true especially with people with whom it is not possible to converse directly about something. Since I've had countless experiences where someone (including myself) has said, "No, that's not what I said (or meant)," I believe strongly in identifying exactly what was said and allowing modification, where necessary, to clarify. Without the benefit of clarification, I simply must rely on parsing if I am to be both fair and charitable. 

I want others to parse my words (to examine them closely and subject them to detailed analysis - to make sense of and comprehend them), simply because I don't want to be misunderstood. I want to be judged by what I actually say, NOT by what others assume I must have meant. That has happened to me - people saying, "You can't have meant that, no matter what you said." My response always is, "I said it; I meant it." If I mis-speak, I want others to point out the meaning of what I actually say, so I have a chance to correct my mistake. However, I don't want them to jump to erroneous conclusions based on their assumptions of what I just had to have meant.

What others read into my words that isn't there is NOT my responsibility. I only can say what I mean, as clearly as I am able to say it in that moment. If it is misunderstood, I have no responsibility for that - IF I have done my best to express myself as clearly as I can. In that situation, it is up to the person who hears or reads my words to put as much effort into undertanding me as I put into trying to be understood - to parse my words for their actual meaning and grant me the consideration of believing I tried hard to write or say what I meant.

To me, that's nothing more than common courtesy and charity - not judging, not jumping to conclusions, not assuming to know one's "real intent" hidden cunningly behind one's words, not dismissing the parsed meaning and inserting other meaning instead. Again, I've been the target of enough non-parsing interpretations that I refuse to do it to others. Hence, I parse - carefully and consciously and as charitably as I can without intentionally twisting and distorting.

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