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A thought inspired by Thursday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Nedarim 30

A thought inspired by Thursday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Nedarim 30

People don’t mean exactly what they say.

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This post presents a philosophical idea inspired by the text of today’s Daf. The Daf is one page in the Talmud that tens of thousands of people study each day. I explain the connection to the text in a comment below. My purpose is to show that there are underlying philosophical assumptions in the Talmud that can have great significance for anybody today trying to understand our complex reality.

People say things but you can’t listen only to the words they say.

When they say words, you have automatic capabilities that instantly process the words and other parts of your brain that are already preparing the response.

Stop and think. If you give yourself some extra time, you can switch to the slower, non-automatic way of thinking. What is it that they really said? What did they really mean? What made them say those words? You will not know all the answers to these questions but neither might they.

When someone says something slightly irritating to you, it could be that they have been having a bad day. They could be asking for some help. When a colleague says something about you, it might not be only you they are talking about. There could be biases and prejudices going on that have nothing to do with your personal record. On the other hand, perhaps they are just saying that you threaten their position.

Think of both you and the person you are talking to as two icebergs. For each of you, the part that is visible is much smaller than the rest which is hidden under the water. The part above the water is the non-automatic part of your minds that you are both aware of. A lot, however, is going on in their mind and in yours that you are not aware of. The less visible processes also tend to be more automatic.

When they talk, they are aware of their explicit intentions and meanings. However, they are less aware of many of the other forces driving them. When you first hear their words, the automatic invisible part grabs on to the obvious meanings. But when you think a bit more, you are exploring some of what they are less aware of.

If, after some reflection, you decide that what they said is even worse than it seemed, don’t let yourself get angry or react emotionally. Those feelings would be bubbling out of the underwater part of your iceberg.

Think about they just said but think even more about how you should react.

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