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If you want to connect to people, say what you think, rather than repeating what you read.
This is something I’m working on, because it’s tempting to read something that sounds smart, then say it yourself, hoping you’ll sound smart, too. That’s much less work than actually thinking of something smart to say.
But the other day, I was talking with a friend. I made an off-the-cuff remark about not writing personal experiences because it’s scary. I hadn’t actually thought it through, but it was a meme I’d read a lot, and it sounded smart. I don’t recall what she said, but it was direct and insightful, much better than what I’d said, and I could tell the thoughts were her own. They just fit the conversation better, and moved it forward in a way that I hadn’t. And that evening, I wrote a note in my very long list of potential posts, so I could explore the idea of repeating vs thinking. Which is what I’m doing now.
Now, there is some logic to repeating things you’ve read: In a conversation, there’s no way to think of something new, figure out how to express it, and not just stare off into the distance for five minutes. Conversations rely on cached thoughts — ideas you’ve already explored that you can recall for the conversation. The thinking needs to happen beforehand, in private.
But there’s a difference between referencing a thought you’ve explored yourself, and quoting something that sounded smart. It’s a matter of how integrated that idea is with the rest of what you think, of how easily you can connect that smart-sounding idea to other ideas, so you can carry the idea through the rest of the conversation and see new insights as you apply it to this new situation you’re discussing.
That, I think, is the key: You need to be familiar enough with the ideas surrounding this new idea that you can use it to create new insights. That’s the core difference between repeating an idea and absorbing an idea.
And so, I have my new homework: Whenever I find a smart-sounding idea that I know I’ll want to use later, I need to think about it until I see the connections to the rest of the world, and until I have some tiny new insight based on that. That’s when I’ll be ready to use the idea in conversation.
For anyone not blogging yet: Writing is a great way to explore ideas. And if you want a post worth reading, it almost has to include some new insight. So you’ll get lots of practice at this. (Nudge, nudge.)If you liked this post, consider visiting my current blog at mikesententia.com.