[Articles on Communication][Freeing the Mind - Articles on Personal Development]

Everybody's Doing it!

Is there anything we know everything about? Even the simplest thing, like a pen. Can you say you know everything about it? Do you know where every electron in every atom in that pen is located? Of course not. Even with the simplest thing we cannot say we know everything about it. But do we, or others act as if they do?

Consider this:

Everybody thinks this is a good idea.

No one will agree with that.

These are statements about the whole of something. Every person. Whoever makes this sort of statement is claiming that they know what everyone thinks or doesn't think. This is mind reading, and as we learned, we can ask, 'How do you know that?' The point we are making now is about the claim to know everything (although the person doesn't make this claim explicitly.)

We will mention three ways of dealing with statements about everything. First:

Everybody thinks this is a good idea.

Everyone? Every single person who exists? Who has ever existed?

No one will agree with that.

No one? Not even one single solitary person in the whole world?

(As we know people believe all sorts of crazy things, it's so unlikely that no one will agree with our idea.)

I can never speak in public.

Never? Not even if your life depended on it? Your child's life?

All men are sexist pigs.

All men? Every single one? Has there never been a man in existence who was not sexist?

All women are money-grabbers.

All women? Every single woman who has ever lived. Has there never been a woman in the whole of existence who was not a money-grabber?

Another approach we can use is simply to ask for an example:

All bankers are crooks.

All bankers. Which banker, for example?

Men are so cruel.

All men? Which man in particular? Can you give an example?

We might follow up their answer with, 'How do you know that?'

Double Binds

The third method we will mention is a bit tricky. It is called using a double-bind. Whenever we say something about everything (or nothing) we are almost always being self contradictory, because there is nearly always a counter-example.

I can't say, 'No' to anyone.

Go and say no to him!

Either the person says no to him or to you!

I can't learn anything.

How did you LEARN that?

(They have learned "they can't learn anything", haven't they?)

I lack self-confidence.

Are you CONFIDENT about that?

You seem CONFIDENT about saying that.

With a double-bind, the person can't avoid answering in a self contradictory way.

Alfred Korzybski made the point that we can never know EVERYTHING about ANYTHING. There is always something we might learn.

Every two or three decades, physicists tell us they have now completed the study of physics and now know everything about physics. Usually this lasts for a short time until they discover something else! If this is true of physics, it is certainly true of our everyday statements about everything (or nothing.)

You will never succeed.

NEVER? Not even in making a cup of coffee?

How, specifically do you know that?

No one can do it better!

NO ONE? Not one single person ever? Not even in the distant future?

Scientific statements are different from ordinary everyday ones. In science there is a lot of evidence to support statements and there is some interrelationship between the statements, so if they were wrong, then so would a vast body of knowledge be wrong. The world would be quite different from how we image it. Yet, even the most cherished theories of science are not completely certain. How much more uncertain are the everyday claims to know everything made by us ordinary mortals?

Doctors know best.

EVERY doctor? Do all doctors agree on everything all of the time? Has there never been a doctor who made a mistake? (If all doctors don't agree, they can't all be right. If one makes a mistake, you cannot say he or she knows best.)

When people claim to know all about something, they often claim to have knowledge they evidently don't have!

To make a statement about every man (or woman) is to claim to know about every man and woman. Therefore, we can often ask, 'How do you know that?'

People sometimes make 'all'statements with almost no evidence at all. So when we ask for an example, they often struggle to find one, let alone several.

Double-binds are often used in therapy. Although the person cannot handle a double-bind without being inconsistent, they might not realise this. So a double-bind is often used several times until the listener realises.

Above all, be wary about everything and nothing!

Don't forget to give feedback!

Best wishes

Ken Ward

Please visit the New Life Course - Bring your mind back to life!

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Most Recent Revision: 20-Mar-99.
Copyright 1998, 1999 Ken Ward,
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