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How Do You Know?
Often in a discussion, someone will challenge an assertion by a speaker, asking, "How do you know?" When we are asked that question, we have to give justification for what we have claimed. We must give the facts, or clarify the reasoning by which we came to such a conclusion. Often this challenge expresses disagreement. Our pride or integrity is then on the line. Often I have heard the answer, "I just know!" The challenge is then reissued, more strongly, "But HOW do you know?"
In the first use of the question above, the emphasis is on the verb know. This is usually asking for information. In the second it is on how, probing the process, the assumption. In communication, this second question is important. There are assumptions we rarely question behind our "knowing process." This is the basic worldview level from which every human operates. We who wish to communicate must ask ourselves, "How do we know?"
A basic communication principle is, Start with what they know, and proceed toward what you want them to know. In communicating with someone of a different culture and language, we tend to look for the words in their language to express what we know. This leads to the question, "What do they know?" But this still focuses on information.
This word know also refers to the deep worldview, the cultural concept of reality and how we relate to it. This worldview is often incompatible with other worldviews. This involves a way of adding new knowledge. Thus you cannot simply input your new information into the existing cultural or personal "bank of knowledge." The way you do it is also affected by worldview.
What part of the word know …?
The communicator must know, as well as possible, what the target people already know, but also how they process new knowledge. A worldview both enables and limits. It enables by giving a definitions of what is real and how the forces in the world work. This provides the frame of reference for what can be considered significant and for what can make sense. A world view also thereby limits what new knowledge can make sense, in light of the previous knowledge and assumptions.
What do we really mean when we say we "know" something. One might say, "I know he went to Germany," when in fact, he went to Holland. The speaker "knew" something, but that something was not true. Or we often state a feeling or belief: "I know he could not have done that," but it turns out that he, in fact, did do it. Can you "know" something that is not true? What we mean by such a statement is, "Based on my concept of reality and previous experience of this person and similar circumstances, I believe this to be the case."
This is a worldview statement related to certainty. (Don’t get scared, but here we are talking epistemology: a theory of knowledge, perception and reality.)
When we say we "know," we actually indicate we have a high probability of being certain. Let's look further at "certainty." We usually mean: I think I have enough information to draw a conclusion, leaving room for error--so I may not be quite right. There may be more information I am not now aware of. I am certain--but I'm not quite sure! We say, "Well, I don't know, but I'm sure they were leaving today." Aren't people funny? We use words for knowledge and certainty to indicate assumptions and probabilities!
Is there a point to this?
Stay with me. There is a point to all this! Now, how much information must you have to feel your opinion is accurate? In the US legal system, the principle is "beyond reasonable doubt." But then, what makes it "reasonable." How much doubt does it take to be "reasonable?" Reason involves significance, balance and decision. The problem is, this varies culturally.
This is a worldview question. What factors are given significance, where the balance falls, how the decision is made. So "knowing" is not the same for all of us, and it is not a simple process. What is reasonable to you may not be reasonable in your host culture.
Learning to communicate in a new cultural milieu is thus a deep-level, long-term process. It involves more than six or nine months of "language study." It involves slow probing of the psyche of the host culture. This psyche is the worldview. It involves active, careful observation of the people's decision-making processes, arguments, reasoning. And it involves self-analysis and redevelopment in host-culture thought processes and decision-making.
Truth and Experience
Look at it this way. As a child, how did you first decide what was true, what to accept, what to reject? You did not get to choose. You were absorbing information and patterns from the world around you. You did not have a say in what came first or second, what you were trained to do and not do. These first impressions and training provided you with the basic worldview.
Later you became able to use reason to compare and evaluate new experiences on the basis of old. You learned how to trust sources, weigh input and decide on the relative significance of various input.
The Knowing Process
The people in your host culture went through the same process, around a core of experiences, some similar to yours, others different. So how people know becomes more important than what they know. So we must ask, How do the host culture know? What is the knowing process in that culture?
Then likewise ask, How do I know? From how the host culture knows, what can they know, and likewise for myself. Different factors given different significance lead to different perspectives and conclusions. In that light, the question is, How can what I know, from how I need to know it, be related to what they know and how they need to know it? This is not a light subject – mucking around in people’s cognitive world!
This is the problem of worldview. In communicating, we are entailing this whole extensive thought-world in each simple exchange. So there is a real depth to the question, How do you know? Give attention to both these key words. Explore with your partner in cross-cultural communication. Explore together what each of your knows, and how you know it and why you know it – pointing to the greater knowledge neither of you may have yet discovered.
This means that truth is more in how we know than in what we know. This must be the significance of the statement by Jesus that he is the truth. So when you are asked "How do you know?", consider the deeper implications. Be sure you are sure you know it. And do not be afraid to admit that you do not know or that the you way know is different.
Knowing Together -- a Sacred Synthesis
Communication is "knowing together." It is in this interpersonal exchange that communication -- and meaningful synthesis -- take place.
Copyright © Orville Boyd Jenkins 1999
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.
What is Worldview? | Culture and Experience | How Do You Know? | Cognitive and Social Culture | Worldview Noise in Communication
Worldview in Language: Language and Thought | Worldview in Language: Identity and Relationship
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