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Adrian, a spy for the King, sees a nobleman murder a servant. His desire for truth is pitted against the dangers of a high-stakes political game. When his friend Draken insists on pursuing justice, Adrian must protect those he cares about as the political games of powerful men alter the lives of everyone around him.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Non-Synonyms: John's Pet Peeves Number 6

This is more about language and attitude than about writing, per se. I've noticed a tendency for people to treat things as synonyms when they really aren't, and it makes communication much more difficult. It's even worse when it becomes tribal, and a group equates non-synonyms in their battle against some other tribal belief set.

To make this more about writing, these can be used as flaws for a fictional character to very good effect. A character could conflate any of these pairs, and become a more interesting and deeper character rather than a cardboard cutout. Flaws in fictional characters are interesting, where flaws in real people are more often disappointing.

So here are a few things I've noticed that have caused confusion in the past.

Opinion & Fact

Did person so-and-so really say that horrifically biased and controversial thing, or was it put together as an attention-grabbing meme? Or on a more personal level, have you taken the time to learn the difference between opinion and fact, and can you identify them when you see them?

A person's opinion is always valid, and facts are always valid. The difference is that one person's opinion may differ from another's and still be perfectly valid. Facts are non-negotiable.

Feeling something doesn't make it right for everyone. It doesn't actually make it right for anyone, necessarily. I like pizza. This doesn't mean that you must like pizza. That's the nature of opinion. On the other hand, disagreeing with me that 2+2=4 (given standard definitions) is a matter of fact, and disagreeing with me would mean that you're wrong.

Moral relativism fits into this argument, where a person may believe that they are the only one qualified to determine what is right and moral for them, when morals are really a group-wide and often humanity-wide or even a universal concept. Moral absolutes work like facts, even if we pretend they work like opinions.

If you like the idea of deciding what's right for yourself in spite of rules, regulations, standards and laws, but don't believe someone else should rob or kill you because of their own differing internal morals, then you don't really believe in moral relativism, and are simply selfish and confused. Your job is to tell if that's my opinion, or if it is a fact.

Fame & Intelligence

Have you ever seen a movie star or sports star or some other famous person come out for or against something to throw their weight behind a cause without having the background to know what they're talking about? Now, if someone wants to lend their weight to matters of opinion as mentioned above, that's great so long as everyone understands it's opinion. Lots of people take stands like that on even very controversial hot-button opinions. The problem comes in when the issue can be dealt with on a factual basis.

Some people jump into matters which can be determined by facts without first arming themselves with said facts. For instance, everyone seems to have a friend who re-posts without bothering to check or other fact-checking sources for every miracle cure or social outrage. Don't be that guy, but feel free to write about him for purposes of mockery.

Intelligence & Rationality

I saw an article about this a couple months back in reference to a very intelligent man who was convinced by his internet "girlfriend" to become a drug mule. A very intelligent man made completely irrational decisions, and destroyed his career by ending up in a foreign jail.

A quick web search showed me that this is a pretty common topic. Smart people do stupid things pretty regularly. An high score on an IQ test doesn't mean someone makes good choices. If you're a pen-and-paper role player, think about the difference between intelligence and wisdom which are typically used to help describe your character. Intelligence is knowing stuff, while being rational (or having wisdom) is making good choices based on the information you have, or can deduce.

Understanding & Agreement

This comes up at home a lot. The kids like to tell me how I just don't understand because I am not them. I'm afraid that in most cases I understand just fine. I just don't agree, and that's why kids aren't allowed to (insert dangerous or stupid idea of the day here).

In the cartoon Calvin & Hobbes, you see this all the time. Calvin wants to ride his sled off the roof or do some other outrageous thing, and his parents won't allow it. Calvin believes it's because they just don't understand. Rules suck and are designed to oppress the young and bend them to the will of the misinformed and ignorant adult, which Calvin sometimes imagined as mindless dinosaurs or evil insectoid invaders.

Love & Approval

I have had legal custody of three nieces and a nephew for over a decade because their parents had some serious problems with the legal system. I disapproved of the parents' actions regularly and pointedly, and often directly to them. Through it all, they were still family, still loved, still prayed for, and still helped whenever it looked like I could do something productive for them. Sometimes their idea of help and mine differed (see Understand & Agree above) but I did what I could. The extended family (and particularly their kids) still loved them through all of it, while maintaining a lack of approval for the poor choices which were made.

Part of raising children is teaching them what is approved and what is not while maintaining a loving environment. You don't let your toddler play in the street, even when she wants to, because you don't approve of the behavior. Your disapproval is enhanced by your love, not diminished by it.

Disagreement & Hate

This is linked at the hip with the previous idea of love and approval. I can disagree with you without hating you. It's pretty easy, actually. It happens all the time. I disagree with kids, as noted above. I disagree with my boss, my friends, and complete strangers. My own internal desires and goals disagree with each other on a regular basis, but it's never filled me with self-loathing. Disagreement is part of being human. Whenever there is opinion involved, you can guarantee disagreement. When facts are involved, guess what. People still disagree. People can disagree without hate. Whether people do disagree without hate is up to them. Feel free to disagree, but know that you will be wrong. I won't hate you for it.

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