Monday, November 7, 2011

I think versus I know

Reading over many of my posts, I notice that I have the habit of beginning many of my sentences with "I think". I think this, I think that, bla bla bla.

What does that suggest to you?

Hesitancy. Doubt. Lack of conviction or confidence in what I am saying.


1. I think that it is important to exercise regularly.
2. It is important to exercise regularly.

3. I think that the scent of orange blossoms is one of the loveliest scents in the world.
4. The scent of orange blossoms is one of the loveliest scents in the world.

What is the difference between these two ways of communicating?

One is passive, the other is assertive.

Why do you suppose I frame many of my sentences with "I think", rather than just making an affirmative declaration?

I think it is because I am trying to keep an open mind. (Yes, the use of "I think" at the beginning of this sentence was intentional.) Or rather, that by beginning my sentence with "I think" is to speak from a perspective of open-mindedness and humility. It is also to distinguish an opinion from an absolute fact, and to acknowledge that I may be wrong, or that other points of view may be equally valid.

But is it really necessary? Does speaking passively really help?

In any case, I think the best answer to my question as to why I begin some sentences with "I think", is to indicate that it is an opinion and not a fact. Just as the previous sentence illustrates, it suggests that I am not 100 percent certain that I am right, and by using the words "I think" says that I am open to the possibility of being wrong, and that I am willing to modify my beliefs or assumptions as new evidence becomes available.

That is what I believe is going on when people begin sentences with "I think". But it also suggests that they do not know.

So not sure whether this is a good or a bad habit, but I suppose it would depend on the sentence, and on whatever it is you're talking about.

I guess the lesson to be learned from this, in regards to writing and speaking, is that whenever choosing words, it is important to ask yourself whether it is more appropriate to communicate in a passive voice or an assertive one.

For example, is it better to say:  "I think muscular men are more attractive than skinny men." Or simply a declarative: "Muscular men are more attractive than skinny men."

I know that's a shallow example, but hey, it works.

The difference between the two, is that the one being more open minded and less confident, weakens its own argument. It casts a shadow of doubt on itself. Which may be entirely appropriate, or not. It depends on the situation. Being open minded is generally more of a virtue than a vice, but sometimes the facts clearly out weigh the theories, and in such a case being open minded may be more of burden than a help.

Saying "I think" also suggests that I am not really sure. And that's fine if that is in fact the case, but one should also be aware that by communicating in this manner, beginning sentences with "I think" weakens your statement.

As the old adage says: It is best to say what you mean and to mean what you say.

It would be completely unnecessary to begin that sentence with I think, because in this case it is not something I merely think, it is something I know.

That is the primary difference between thinking something and knowing something, one is weak, the other is strong; one is lucid, the other is confused; one is uncertain, the other is confident; and one may be clever, but the other is wise.

One knows, the other thinks she knows, but isn't really sure whether what she knows is right or wrong. Therefore, the difference between knowing and thinking, is the difference between being awake and being asleep.