A New Year’s Resolution: No More “Believing.”

The word believe is an odd one in the English language, at least in how we use it today. That’s why I’ve decided to try and stop believing in 2018. Let me explain.

First, there’s nothing wrong with the word itself – I just think in our continual race to soften our language, we’ve started using believe in a whole lot of different situations, to mean a whole lot of different things. That creates a lot of imprecision, which is something that just personally bugs me. I like precise words. So, I’ve decided to stop using believe entirely – not because there aren’t times when it’s perfectly accurate, but because the word is mis-used so much that I’m never sure if people really understand what I mean when I’m using the word.
Some examples:

  • “Hey, Don, did you know that Trump is a really great guy?”
    “No – I don’t believe you.”
    Translation: “I disagree with you.”
    Comment: Saying you don’t believe someone is somehow less confrontational than saying you disagree with them. I’ve decided just to tell people I disagree, when I do.
  • “Hey, Don, do you believe in God?”
    Translation: “I choose to accept this as fact, even without physical, reproducible evidence.”
    Comment: I think this is the one valid use of believe, but I’m still going to avoid using it in this context. And look, I’m not beating up on faith; there’s nothing wrong with accepting something unprovable as fact, if that’s what works for you. I’m just closing to not use the word believe to describe the situation.
  • “Hey, Don, did you know the IRS is giving our free money this week?”
    “I don’t believe you.”
    Translation: “You are lying.”
    Comment: Obviously calling someone a liar is strong. But we live in a world where people constantly make unproven assertions about things that – unlike religious matters – can be readily substantiated by facts. I’m just going to call a spade a spade – when someone says something I know the facts don’t support, I’m going to call them a liar.
  • “Hey, Don, did that report ever get finished?”
    “I believe so.”
    Translation: “I’m too lazy to verify the facts of the matter.”
    Comment: This one happens in business a lot – or it’s cousin, “I think so.” Again, in the case where provable facts exist, why not just verify them? “Yes” or “no” would be a far more concrete answer.

There are more situations – and you can share yours. Again, I’m not saying believe is a bad word, just that we use it to mean a lot of different things. In an effort to be more precise, I’m going to stop using this vague word, and try to more concretely state my position.
Want to join me?
This concept is continued in much more depth, along with many more, in my new book Be the Master, available now at Leanpub.

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What if you can't tell if they're: a) lying, b) bullshitting, or c) ignorant? I see what you're getting at here (especially in your last example), but if knowledge is essentially belief+truth, fully upgrading belief to knowledge can be expensive (or impossible in some worldviews). Also, some of what I "know" today is probably not true, and it just hasn't come to my attention yet. Since there's a non-zero chance that my own "facts" aren't true, could I ever--with certainty--call someone a liar?


Sounds like you are preparing world for AI 🙂 , unless you can program AI to believe! Viva PowerShell!!!