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Implicit in the Text

February 17, 2012

As I walked from my room to eat dinner, I was observing people and noticing that many had their cell phones out. I wondered how many of them were actually communicating with someone, and how many were simply using the phone in their hands to avoid contact with others. This, I think, was the only reason I noticed someone smoking outside of the cafeteria– because I was people-watching, while I walked.

I know this person, because she and I are both part of a research group. I considered saying something along the lines of the oft-used “You know, those things are supposed to be pretty bad for you.”

Since I’ve said “considered”, you already know that I didn’t, and instead just said hi and walked inside. 

Why didn’t I say anything? I obviously had the intention of doing so, and reconsidered. It’s because I know the literature about addiction, including smoking. People who smoke aren’t ignorant of what smoking cigarettes does to a person’s body. The War on Drugs, and especially the War on Tobacco, has been extremely successful in making everyone aware of the negative ramifications.

But people smoke anyway.

The point here isn’t about smoking, though. The point is that the explicit level of meaning here, smoking is bad, is already known, and in fact doesn’t serve much of a purpose.

But people say it anyway.

I thought about this. If the phrase is essentially useless, are we simply too ignorant to realize this fact and stop using it? Do we assume everyone ELSE is too ignorant, or smokers are too ignorant, to realize it? Well, maybe some of us. But that can’t account for all of our behavior.

 The important distinction here is between the explicit and the implicit levels of meaning. When I say to a friend “Hey, you know those things are supposed to be pretty bad for you”, there are some implicit premises here: I care about you. I don’t want to see you come to harm. I like you and want you to be around me for as long as possible.

Far be from me to say that people are always sensible. But sometimes people aren’t being idiots. Sometimes they just care. 

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