Use Your Own Words

16th March 2019

As a teacher I ask my students to prove they have understood the material by expressing it in their own words.

We should also ask of ourselves when we are sharing our opinions and engaging in political debate: “Am I using my words, or am I parroting someone else.”

It’s really hard to find your own words.

When we hear someone we respect and we hear ourselves parroting their words as though they are our own, we need to stop and think. Even if we agree, we don’t get to do that, because copying doesn’t show you have understood the material. If you don’t understand then there’s no way to tell if what you are saying is true.

And truth has to be the golden standard, or else we are just guessing.

How to find your own words

First you have to recognise you don’t know what your own words are. Honest and true words don’t come from something your father told you, or a deep feeling of being ‘right’ in your core. You need to get your thoughts out onto paper so you can return to them. Do this daily or weekly for at least a year and then take some time look back over what you wrote a year ago. You’ll surprise yourself with how emotionally charged some of your writing was, how uninformed you were, how shrouded by muddled thinking your process had been.

But you get better, so you need to start measuring your thoughts and language before you can evaluate them. 

You need to get into the habit of asking questions when you discuss, and quoting others ideas as theirs and not as your own. Start off by learning how to say “I’m not sure if I have thought about this enough to have an informed opinion about it.”

Once we start becoming more specific, more thoughtful and careful about our speech (especially political speech) we become more authoritative, more articulate and better able to understand the world and influence others positively. That’s when we can start to find out own words, that have come from a place inside that speaks authentically as ourselves, not as sheep or ideologues.

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