Friday, October 30, 2015

Defining terms and battling assumptions

Beginning an Investigation
Defining Terms and Concepts by Asking Questions
            One very important skill honed in humanities courses is how to ask probing questions (Investigation).  Asking questions serves to clarify the meanings of terms and concepts which are shared by you and your audience, whether you work in a lab, law office, corporate environment, retail, school, band, etc.  In depth questions and responses are essential for analysis and strategic planning. It is really useful everywhere.
When beginning your investigation, Do not take any term, word or phrase at face value, and Do not assume that your audience necessarily shares your intrinsic understanding of that term and its related concept.
For the most part, many of the terms used in our own sub-culture carry meaning which we do not feel necessary to define. We are able to cruise through life and conversation utilizing words, phrases, cliches without giving them a second thought.  The people in our immediate family, social circle, and subculture share our interpretation of these ideas.  The moment we begin to converse .with those outside our immediate sphere of social interaction, we need to be more careful with our use of language if we are to be understood.  Each group has a specialized understanding of words and concepts.  Often the same word carries multiple meanings.
It is this very real language phenomenon which makes “literal interpretation” impossible.  It is however a great demonstration of the humor found in satire and puns.  One must of course understand the cultural usage of the word, phrase or idiom to understand the meaning.
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So lets try an example:  How would you define The Green Bay Packers
We could say, “They suck!, "They have rabid fans”, "Cheeseheads!" while these may be a useful subjective sentiments in understanding a certain sub-cultural emotional perspective, it doesn’t really serve as a useful objective definition.

Just as we often find that people have emotional responses to music (e.g. "Its relaxing", "Its upbeat" ,"It makes me feel like dancing." etc.), we need to find a way to get past those initial sentiments in order to describe musical events objectively in order to have fully meaningful discussions.
So lets try to define in measurable terms what the Green Bay Packers are as if we had to explain it to  someone who knows nothing about them.  We do this by asking questions ourselves to discover what is really necessary to know.
Q: What are The Green Bay Packers?
A: The Green Bay Packers are a sports team.
Q: Do they play against the Yankees?
A: No, the Yankees play baseball.  The Green Bay Packers are a Football team.
Q: Have any of their players played in the World Cup?
A: No, the World Cup is for soccer teams (called football teams everywhere else in the world).  The Green Bay Packers play American Football.
Q: Oh yeah, you mean like the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  Do they ever play each other?
A: No, the Nebraska Cornhuskers are a college team.  The Green Bay Packers are a professional American Football team.  There are 32 professional teams.  These teams are divided into two conferences of 16 teams, the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference).  Each conference is further subdivided into 4 divisions, North, East, South and West. After the regular season the winners of each division (plus two of the higher performing teams within the division (termed Wild Card teams) goes on to play for the conference championship in a round of play-offs.  The Champion of each Conference then goes on to play for the NFL Championship in a game called the “Super Bowl.”  The Green Bay Packers are a professional American Football team in the National Football Conference, North Division of the National Football League and are the most recent Super Bowl Champions.
Q: North Division, NFC – got it, so where exactly is Green Bay.
A: Green Bay is located on the western shore of Lake Michigan in the state of Wisconsin.
Q: How close is Lake Michigan to Lake Tahoe?
A: Not even.  Lake Michigan is one of the 5 Great LakesWisconsin is a Great Lakes state north central United States bordered by Lake Superior and the Upper Peninsula of Lake Michigan on the north, Lake Michigan on the east and the St. Croix river on the west.
Q: Can they use their hands? Can they touch other players? How many people on a team? How many on the field at one time? etc.
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As you can see one can get really get down to specifics when asking probing questions. In fact in the span of 10 minutes I have written about one page of essay worthy material by describing something I already know through question and answer. And I haven’t even gotten into discussing, venues, how the game is played, positions on the team, fans, merchandising advertising, its relationship to the rest of American culture etc.
This technique is easily applied to your studies in the book. i.e.
Q: What is a kidi?
A: A kidi is a drum
Q: Like a snare drum in an American rock band?

A: No it is an African drum.

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