Self-evident, a not-so-simple word

You might think the word ”self-evident” is an easy word. Actually, our understanding is all backwards which leads us down the path of confusion. Here is a word to fix it.

Many years ago, my close friend Niklas Ljungkvist asked me if I understood the word self-evident (Swedish: ”självklart”). ”Of course”, I retorted. ”It’s easy, something that we all understand.” He looked at me with those querying eyes and offered his definition:

”Self-evident means ’evident to myself – and absolutely no one else’”

This insight struck me deep. I realised why my ”self-evident” words of wisdom didn’t seem to work for others. It explained why they kept on doing ”the wrong thing” despite my insights. Of course, my thinking was likely flawed. My insights probably lacked bearing on the other person’s life. However, they didn’t have to agree with my advice, but was I getting across? In hindsight, I have to say no.

New meaning, a new word

The fix is not too tricky; We need to remember this gap between ourselves and everyone else. A simple remedy is to invent a new word. I propose ”us-evident” (Swedish: ”ossklart”).

”Us-evident as in ’evident to all of us’”

Whenever you try to convey something to another person, remember that it have to be us-evident to be of value. Otherwise, it will be a waste of your breath and a wear and tear on your audience’s ears. All parties need to grasp what you want to convey – there is no ”self” in that notion.

But, how can I know if I bridged the gap?

Good question; When are we us-evident? You could have the other person repeat what you said, but chances are you will come across as a stern school teacher. Your kids might put up with you, but your wife will not.

Try and phrase your feedback check differently:

  • What part of my advice made sense to you?
  • What alternatives do you see?
  • What do you want to try out first?

In my examples above there are two principles. First, try and be specific in your follow-up question. A yes/no question will not offer any deeper insight to what they grasped. A general question is likely to get a general reply. People will offer a ”good” or similar response since they don’t want to be rude. They might shy away from admitting what they really understood of your litany. Secondly, listen to their reply. Yeah, that last one is difficult, so I should probably finish this blog and let you go us-evident. Good luck!

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