Do Not “Believe.”

I’ve been trying to make a change to the way I think and speak. It’s an important one, for me. It’s a subject I’ve written about before elsewhere, but I’m trying to apply it to my daily life: I do not believe.

That can sound pretty weird, so let me explain.

I have opinions, of course, just like everyone else. I have reasons behind them, but my opinions are not objectively right or wrong; they’re simply opinions. They’re subject to change based on new information, and I’m often happy to share them if asked, as well as explain what led me to them. I might say, “in my opinion, this government policy is a bad idea.” I try not to say, “I believe the policy is bad idea.”

Beliefs are, for the most part, things that are held forth as facts, but which cannot be substantiated or proven. I might believe in a particular deity, for example, but that doesn’t usually have a place in my professional life. I don’t want to argue about that belief, and I have no intention of trying to prove or disprove it, and it’s probably not something I’m really open to changing. See, that’s the difference between belief and opinion, and it’s why I try to use the correct word for what I really mean.

Most importantly, especially in my professional life, is the theory. I might theorize that our customers are behaving in a certain way for a certain reason; I would never state that I believe they are doing something for one reason or another. A theory can, given time and data, be proven or disproven; a belief cannot. My clearly stating that my statement is a theory, I let my colleagues know that I’m open to proving or disproving it, discussing it, and so on. Were I to express a belief, my intentions are perhaps less clear.

Outside of perhaps my religious beliefs, I try not to have any beliefs. I try to have opinions and theories. I try to be clear about which is which. And most especially at work, I try to stick with theories and proofs as much as possible. My opinions, by and large, have little place in the business; what’s good for the business are for me to state my theories, and then either prove or disprove those based on objective facts. Or, in some cases, fail to conclusively prove or disprove them, showing that I had a poorly-formulated theory.

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