The difference between Skeptical and Observant


I recently delivered a workshop to really smart, competent engineers.  During the introductions, 2 of them proudly announced that they were skeptical, meaning they were skeptical about what I was teaching, that it would be any good or useful.

This is not unusual, because what I teach is new, and if you have ever tracked with the history of this world, anything new meets with skepticism.

It truly was with great PRIDE that they used the word skeptical to describe themselves. You’ve probably seen this before yourself and can imagine the moment.

The workshop I was delivering included a segment on understanding the precise meanings of words. This is something most people glibly agree is important, yet very few crack open a good dictionary.

So, good-humoredly I asked each of them if they knew what the word skeptical means. They hesitated and then said it meant they wouldn’t believe it unless I proved it. That if I showed them it worked, they would believe it.

That’s not what skeptical means.

Skeptical means one who doubts and distrusts the truth and reality of any principle or system of principles or doctrines.

A skeptic is one who, even when presented with evidence, doubts and distrusts the truth of it.

A skeptic originally was a member of an ancient Greek school of thought that doubted the possibility of real knowledge, who maintained that you can’t trust your senses, and who therefore doubted everything.

Sound like a fun bunch of people to have around?

That’s where the word came from and it still carries that meaning.

It doesn’t sound to me like something a person should be proud of.

There’s a world of difference between being skeptical and being observant.

Observe means perceiving or seeing what is there with great accuracy.

Intelligent means the ability to draw a correct conclusion from what one sees, plus the ability to use it to solve problems.

So, there’s a WORLD of difference between a skeptical person and one who is observant and intelligent.  These you can be proud of!

Skeptical and observant are mutually exclusive because someone who is skeptical can’t see because they won’t look.  They assume it’s wrong, so they don’t have to look.  And, even if the see it, they don’t REALLY see it.

It took me less than 60 seconds to clear up the definition of these words. But it was amazing the immediate attitude change I saw in both students.

They went from being smug (another great word to define) to being interested, they decided to be observant and intelligent, approached the workshop with open minds and learned a lot.

Isn’t it incredible that learning the precise definitions of words can change attitudes so markedly?  I have been enthralled by this for the last 35 years.  The magic of it.

May you have the pleasure of having very few skeptics and MANY observant, intelligent people in your life!





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