Friday, May 30, 2014

The Importance of Asking, "What Do They Mean by That?"

There was a quote in an NPR article some time ago that I liked and recorded.  I want to share it today and explain why I like it so much: 

I met a Kabbalist in Israel named Avraham, and he explained it like this. For years, he read religious texts but always wondered: "How do they know that?" One day, he shifted the question to: "What do they mean by that?" A subtle shift, but a crucial one, he told me.

We have become obsessed with knowing - and I don't mean just in our Mormon culture. Our entire modern society is based on the pursuit of knowledge - and, while the pursuit of knowledge is important, it often obscures the underlying meaning of our view of things and can (and does) attack the foundation of faith that is necessary to continue to seek new knowledge as openly as possible.

Let me try to be plainer with regard to making the internal paradigm shift mentioned above.

"How do they know that?" is a skeptical, doubting, negative-side-of-the-coin perspective / launching pad - strictly because, when it comes right down to it, the only "right" answer in many cases, especially in the realm of religion, is, "They don't." 
End of inquiry - beginning of cynicism.

"What do they mean by that?" is a very different question. It is focused on understanding, empathy, connection, unity, etc. It addresses the potential to learn from what can't be "known" - and, thus, is not the self-defeating exercise of the other question. It allows for growth and change of perspective and "additional light and knowledge" - or, in other words, "continuing revelation". It opens the person who makes that shift up to new possibilities and forces that person to dissect statements and search for understanding - not spiral to the crashing impact of, "They don't."

That shift really is crucial to peace and charity, in my opinion - since it allows me to strive to make every interaction I have as valuable and educational and growth-producing as possible, even if, sometimes, the new question ("What do they mean by that?") leads me to the conclusion, "I get it - and I disagree with that meaning." However, more often than not (and far more often than most people would think), it leads me to the conclusion,  

"I'd never thought of it quite like that. COOL!!"


runningcaj said...

I love this! What a healthy way to approach knowledge and relationships.

Ben said...

Excellent suggestion for those of us with a natural skeptical orientation. I will try to keep this in mind more often.