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January 23, 2014

Offering Assessments as Assertions Creates Confusion. Why!

By Robert De Filippis

Most of us take language for granted. We don't realize the power it has to not only describe but to create. In other words, it is not only descriptive, it is also generative, in that it generates reality.


Commonly heard in America today: "I had a pit in my stomach," when we mean I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach. "There are less cars on the road," when we mean fewer cars on the road. "To coin a phrase," when we mean to quote a phrase.

These examples reveal a problem in our society today. We are becoming less and less articulate.

To be articulate means to be good at choosing the right words and phrases and use them properly. In my opinion it exposes the level of consciousness, awareness or attentiveness of the speaker.

I purposely left out his or her education because inarticulate people can have excellent educational opportunities but simply not be articulate. President George W. Bush was a good example, "Is our children learning," when he meant "are our children learning."

And no, I'm not talking about grammar or intelligence here.

My point is that when we speak we expose who we are to the careful listener. In the Bush case, even casual listeners were able to identify his inarticulateness. So what I'm about to write about is going to range from easy to difficult to understand. But I assure you, that understanding this will enhance your understanding of life in America today.

Most of us take language for granted. We don't realize the power it has to not only describe but to create. In other words, it is not only descriptive, it is also generative, in that it generates reality.

Two of the most powerful generative speech acts we perform are assertions and assessments. And they become even more powerfully damaging when they are confused in the mind of the speaker. In fact, our society is being torn apart by this confusion,   both purposeful and accidental, every day.

Two of the domains where this mischief occurs are politics and religion, with the media in third place because it facilitates the damage by failing to confront it in the first two.  

Religion has always been an organized system of beliefs based on assessments. For instance, the three Abrahamic religions are based on differing opinions about the true path to God. There's not a shred of evidence that God even exists, yet these opinions are so tightly held as to be used to justify genocide in their defense.

Politics is the same, where assessments are offered up as assertions with ambiguous evidence based on ungrounded personal opinions. So what we hear based on "facts" are really opinions, very often with no evidence to support them.

The media's response? Report it all from a supposedly objective point of view. In other words, don't go to the trouble of verifying the assessments made as assertions. Report it all and let the reader decide who they're going to believe.

The result? A society torn apart by people who know and use these speech acts to earn enormous amounts of compensation in the process. And listeners whose ability to listen and discern is diminished by the cacophony of crap being spread as news.

We live in what has been called a "post fact" era. The above is one of the cogs in the machinery that creates it. No wonder the reader is confused if he steps out of his preferred echo chamber. No wonder he doesn't want to step out of it.

Our ability to discern and respond to our experience is the "last human freedom" as described by Dr. Frankl, in his book, Man's Search for Meaning. Until we acknowledge and accept responsibility for that freedom, we will suffer the wounded society we now inhabit.

Take responsibility for the feeling in the pit of your stomach by reading more, not fewer news sources and someday you may actually coin a phrase. Until them, you'll be quoting them and someone else will make up your mind.

Robert De Filippis

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Submitters Bio:

Author, columnist, and blogger with a long career in business management, management consulting and executive coaching. I've authored and published eight books: "You, Your Self and the 21st Century,"The Flowers Are Talking to Me," and "Faith Stirred Not Shaken," Christianity in America, "The Martian Prelude," Faith Stirred not Shaken, 2nd edition," "On Coaching with The Birkman Method." "On Coaching with The Birkman Method," and coming soon is my new book, "Loosing" Your Mind: Liberating Your Intellect for Critical Thinking." For sale at your favorite booksellers or the publisher's site: