I have noticed, if I bring up the notion of “faith,” people tend to give me “that look.” It is a hint of a sheepish smile, an obviously feigned acceptance (even if unwittingly). Most humans extend a certain degree of duality. We pick and choose our conversational battles, and it is not uncommon for us to “smile and wave” when we don’t feel like a debate is worth the effort. A great example is the phrase, “how are you doing?”
Rarely does the person asking this question want to hear all the details of our lives. They expect, “fine, thank you for asking.”
We’ve come to accept this practical duality, because it would be impossible to do a “deep” sync with everyone we talk to or everyone who asks us “how are you doing?”
Plurality of Words
The challenge here is one of misunderstanding. If people do not have time to truly understand one another, then, when we do have a short chat, simply based on word choice alone, we can draw completely wrong conclusions from those conversations. Back to my example of using the word “faith” and receiving “that look.” I think the word “faith” gets tied strongly to religion, and people believe I am shopping my religion to them. I am not. When I use the word “faith”, it is with its dictionary definition in mind. Or is it?
I used to see dictionaries and thesauruses as tools to help me learn new words. But in my adult life, I have found a whole new appreciation for the authors of these tomes (or websites, but my inner AD&D muse still enjoys thinking of them as the massive tomes of near-onion skin paper from my childhood). I’ve realized that my definitions for many words are based on how I have heard them used, how I have categorized them in my brain, but not always how they are defined. Just like using meditation to center and calibrate our minds, I’ve found that dictionaries and thesauruses can help center and calibrate my understanding of the words I use.
However, English evolves based on how it gets used. The meaning of words is actually created by how people use them. Eventually, the dictionaries are updated to pick-up on these changes. And, to make this more interesting, there are more online resources these days. Welcome to the “Age of Truth-Seeking” (I wrote about this notion as part of Living and Sharing Our Personal Truth). We are left asking, when attempting to understand a word, which dictionary definition should we use…and from which dictionary!?
Definitions of “Faith”
As a child, my favorite’s were my Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, my Roget’s Thesaurus, and my grandfather’s mammoth Oxford Unabridged Dictionary. If I wanted more, I could go to the library and check the encyclopedia (let’s not mention the card catalog. Am I wrong to miss the card catalog?! *sniffle*). Today though, I check the web. I am confronted with 12-14 definitions of the word “faith”, and that’s just within a couple clicks. My usage of the word is contextual; however, lacking context I tend to go for this definition:
“The assent of the mind to the truth of a proposition or statement for which there is not complete evidence; belief in general”From Wordnik / Century Dictionary
Even that is not wholly correct in representing my intent, as the word “Fear” can share that same definition. Both “faith” and “fear” could be construed as forms of “belief in general.” Ugh.
Also, there are plenty of definitions for “faith” which are indeed tied to religions, or to belief in something/someone when there is no time to do research of our own. Those definitions are definitely not what I am talking about.
Therefore, when I am talking to people, especially during a short conversation, and I use the word “faith”…which of these definitions are THEY applying to the word? What about all the other words I am gluing together?
The “Circle of Words”
Clearly, Sir Elton has another song opportunity here, just in case he happens to be shopping for ideas and reads this article. I set out to write an entirely different and much more useful post, but instead it ends in a circle of words, plurality within duality and peanut-butter in chocolate. Maybe, then, the best way to wrap up our conversations with one another, especially in this fast-paced world filled with such propensity for anger and judgement, despite the popularity of subjects such as “co-existence”, “no h8”, and “diversity equity and inclusion”, despite the meaning of the word “faith”, despite run-on sentences, maybe, we can agree when conversing we should all extend each other patience. “Patience” seems to have fewer definitions, and other than the card game, the definitions appear to be related to one another.
Perhaps I should consider rephrasing my statement “The opposite of fear is faith.”
Maybe, while sorting through “faith” and word choice in general, I could contemplate this phrasing instead: “The opposite of fear is patience.”
Wait, that would mean folks would have to agree that their anger is coming from a place of fear. OK. How about: “The opposite of anger is patience.”
Patience however implies inactivity or complicity. Oh well, this was the “faith” post, that got rebranded “patience” and that seems a good place to wrap up for now.