Defining Words

December 20, 2022

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In today's world, it can be hard to differentiate between what is true and what is false. With both sides using the same terms, how do we know who to trust? In this episode, Elizabeth Urbanowicz will provide insight into how to differentiate truth when both sides are using the same language.


Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.

Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of the Foundation Worldview Podcast, where we seek to answer your questions so that you can equip the children God has placed in your care to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz, and I'm thrilled that you've joined me for another episode today.

Today's question says, how do we differentiate between truth when both sides use the same terms? For example, social justice, benevolence, truth, et cetera.

This is a great question that I'm sure we've all felt the effects of what this person is asking about, that it seems like today there's very much a war of the words. That so many words in our society, the definitions have just been rapidly changed. And I actually let an entire webinar on this called... Oh goodness, what was it called? It was something about pursuing truth in a culture that redefines words. Now, I may not have gotten the exact title correct, but it's something about redefining words. So if you have great interest in this topic, highly suggest you check out that webinar where I'll go into the teaching in a lot more detail.

But just right now as we think about, how do we differentiate between what's true and what's false in a culture where words, the definitions are just so altered? Now, when I was in undergraduate school, when I was in college, one of my education professors in a language class that I took, she said, "Words are hooks we hang our concepts on." And what's happening today so often with these concepts, with these words, these hooks, we try to hang a concept on a certain word, and then we either find that that concept falls down, it doesn't stay on the hook because the hook no longer supposedly means what we think it means. Or we hang our concept on that hook, and then we look at what else is hung on that hook and we're like, "Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. That's not what I mean when I hang this concept on this hook. That's not what this word means when I use it."

And so, one thing that I would recommend is that we just go over with our kids the importance of defining our terms, the importance of defining words. When we say a certain word, what objective concept are we using that word to describe? When someone else uses that same word, what is the objective concept that they are using that word to describe?

Those of you who have gone through our Foundation Careful Thinking Curriculum, you know that in unit two, we go through an entire two lessons on looking at the definitions of words, and how is the person who just spoke this sentence using this word? Is it the classical definition? Is it a new definition? Are we not sure? Do we have to ask more questions to figure out how this person is using that word? And so first, just pausing and training our kids to ask, okay, what is that word? How is it being used in this context is key. And really we need to train our kids and ourselves to ask good questions because really that is almost half of the battle. Just learning to pause and ask good questions.

And questions are key for several reasons. The first reason is as human beings who are created in God's image, we can communicate through language. As human beings who are created in God's image and living on this side of Genesis 3, we know that the fall has affected us in every way, and that includes our ability to communicate. I mean, just think about why so many couples need marriage counseling. It has to do with their communication because we say one thing, and then the other person either doesn't hear what we were communicating or they hear something completely different. So if we and our kids can get good at asking good questions, we can actually begin to genuinely hear someone else. Because many times the problems in our communication or in society are from the fact that we're not hearing one another well.

And so if we can train our kids to ask, "Can you tell me more about what you mean when you use that word?" We're training them to gather information so that they can be careful thinkers and they can actually genuinely hear someone else. Because if we hear one thing and we respond to that thing, but that thing we thought we heard wasn't actually what the other person was saying, we're not responding to what they were saying. And that causes a lot of arguments and a lot of fights when people are just talking past one another. So I really recommend training ourselves and our kids to ask really good questions. "Can you explain to me what you mean when you use the word truth? Can you explain to me what you mean when you just use that word love? I noticed that you're really passionate about social justice. Can you explain to me more of what you mean by social justice?" And then asking further questions to dig in deeper. And then asking questions that are going to get that person to think.

I just heard you say that love is getting to express yourself to anyone that you desire. Well, what if you're expressing yourself isn't what's best for that person? Is that love? Somebody says love means celebrating everything about someone else. Well, what if we're talking about someone who's depressed? Should we be celebrating that person's depression, their thoughts or their negative thoughts about themselves? Should we be celebrating those negative thoughts, or should we be helping them to believe true thoughts about themselves? Or what about someone who is anorexic? Should we be celebrating their anorexia, or should we be helping them believe true things about themselves? So if we can train ourselves and our children to ask good questions, resisting the urge to jump right in, we can actually learn, "Okay, what does this person mean when they use this word? And then what questions can I ask to help them think more carefully about this term that they're using?"

I just saw this recently. Just two weeks ago, I was on a plane heading back from a work trip, and I was writing notes on my notebook just for an upcoming speaking engagement that I had. And the man next to me said, "Excuse me Ms., I saw you write the word Christ down in your notebook. Do you have any religious affiliation?" And I shared, "Yes, I'm a Christian. I believe the Bible's the word of God. I'm a follower of Jesus." And I said, "Do you have any religious affiliation?" He said, "Yes, I'm LDS," which means he's Mormon from the church of... They call themselves The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Anyway, I froze for a moment because I thought, "Oh no, we have so many different beliefs. I forget how to witness to a Mormon. What do I do?" And so I just started asking him questions, not for the purpose of trying to trap him or trick him, but just to gather more information. And as I asked more questions and more clarifying questions, we got into a really good discussion and he just kept saying, "We believe the same thing. We believe the same thing." When I was asking good questions, things would come up and I would say, "You know what, actually that's a difference in our belief."

I don't believe that everyone is going to make it into heaven, and there's just different levels of heaven. And then we would talk some more, and I'd ask some more questions. I'd say, "Well, I actually don't believe that Jesus is a created being. I believe he's been eternally existent. The Son of God has been eternally existent." And then we talked about other things and asked more questions. And I said, "Well, here's another belief. I don't believe that in heaven I'm going to have the possibility of turning into a god and then creating my own planet in universe. I believe that I'm going to be reconciled fully to Jesus and I'm going to reflect him and be in communion with him and with other brothers and sisters in Christ."

And so just asking good questions enabled us to have a genuine discussion, to look at some of our differences, for me to be able to challenge him, for him to be able to challenge me. He didn't walk away from that discussion convinced that the Mormon Church is teaching incorrect doctrine, but there were a few times where I asked him questions and he said, "I've never thought about that before. I'll have to think about that more." And it's my prayer, I'm continuing to pray for him that God would use those questions that I asked him as little pebbles in his shoe that will bother him, that will cause him to seek out different answers. And so that's what I would encourage us to do, to train our kids to ask really good questions, to figure out how a word is being used.

The second thing, when we're thinking about engaging in evaluating ideas, evaluating how words are being used, we need to think about the difference between watching a video on YouTube or on TikTok or just on the TV, and hearing someone present an idea or hearing a newscast or a presidential address or some other type of political speech. So watching something versus actually engaging in a conversation. Because when we're watching something, what we're doing is strictly evaluating, we're practicing evaluating. So when we're watching something, that's a great opportunity to be able to pause whatever we're watching and ask our kids good questions. "What did this person just say? How did they use this word? What did this word mean when they used it? Biblically, what does this term mean?"

When we're engaging in a conversation, we're engaging with a person. And so that's when we need to ask really good questions to make sure we're loving that person. We're asking questions that are going to point them towards the truth. And we want to make sure our children understand the difference in these things as well, that they can look at, "Okay, this is just a video. So I am strictly going to be evaluating this. I'm going to be looking at it for logical inconsistencies. I'm going to be looking at it for ways that which words have been twisted. I'm going to look for, is there strong enough support to believe this claim?"

And then when I'm in a conversation, I know I'm not just engaging with an idea, I'm engaging with a person. And so a person doesn't need to be evaluated. A person needs to be loved. And part of the way that we love someone is by speaking the truth, by asking questions, by listening. So making sure that we differentiate between engaging with an idea that's just recorded and a person, because people are not the sum total of their ideas. That's another conversation or topic that we talk through in Foundation Careful Thinking Curriculum. So if you're actually interested in learning more about how to evaluate ideas, how to equip kids to evaluate ideas, highly recommend you check out our Careful Thinking Curriculum, because we just systematically train kids to break down ideas, to evaluate them, to see if they're true or false, to look at the strength of an argument.

And then in our last unit, we cover these topics that I've been talking about. How do we engage others by listening, by asking good questions, by helping them seek the truth?

That's a wrap for this episode today. But as always, my prayer as we live our time together is that God would richly bless you as you continue to faithfully disciple the children he's placed in your care. I'll see you next time.

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