Look at this tirade:
“It’s a disaster! We’ll never survive. There’s no way out of this mess. They’ve ruined any chance of success.”
What do we have here? It looks like a string of assertions of fact. Some of the word usage may be a bit subjective, but if the speaker were standing on the bridge of the Poseidon shortly after its capsize, her speech would be spot-on.
But we are seldom on the bridge of the Poseidon: one man’s disaster is another man’s opportunity — just look at the 2016 U.S. presidential election. One of the candidates spoke this way almost constantly. Words matter, people! You matter, and I believe what you say is influential. It appears that when people hear strong statements of fact (especially when spoken by authority figures), they sometimes believe them, even against their better judgement. I think it is important, therefore, for responsible human beings to be careful to qualify their statements when appropriate. When you add a qualifier to your statement of fact, you identify it as an opinion, a belief, or maybe even just a speculation or fear. Check this out:
“It looks to me like a disaster! I fear we will never survive. I don’t see any way out of this mess. It appears to me they’ve ruined any chance of my success.”
See what a difference this makes, to simply qualify your speech? The unqualified speech is absolute and does not invite feedback; the qualified speech is relative to oneself and leaves room for other personal views. The unqualified speech is directed entirely outward, into the environment where the problem is someone else’s responsibility; the qualified speech inward, self-referential, and takes responsibility for the speaker’s own response to what is happening in the environment. Most importantly, I think, the unqualified speech is alarmist and invites the listener to agree and believe the situation is as dire as the speaker says; the qualified speech is confessional and invites the listener to figure out for himself what he thinks of the situation, and perhaps offer a counterpoint.
Pay attention: when anyone speaks to you from a position of authority — politician, parent, teacher, clergyman, etc — they will tend to speak assertions of fact, when they would do better to qualify their remarks. That’s what I think, anyway.
Listen to five minutes of any campaign speech made by any candidate in any race for public office in any country any time in the past 3,000 years or so. Note the bold assertions. Are they unqualified statements of fact, or qualified opinions and beliefs? Can you spot an unqualified statement that you think should have been qualified in some way?
Can you spot the places where I qualified the statements in this article? Do you think I missed any?