Definitions

I was at the Harmony Center on Sunday chatting with people after the celebration.  At one point, in the middle of a conversation regarding my recent degree in Addictions and Substance Use Disorders, I remarked, “Everything is an addiction”.  One of my fellow conversationalists, Gerry, emphatically agreed.

Later, a group of us met for continued socializing at a local eating establishment.  Gerry and I started talking about addiction again.  This time I inquired about his definition of addiction.  I wanted to be sure we were talking about the same thing.  He told me that “addiciton is mistaken identity”.

I argued that this could not be a definition of addiction since it would mean that if I saw him at a distance and mistook him for Edward I would be an addict.  In reflection, I can also discount this defintion by pointing out that many addicts, especially those trying to quit, do not mistake their drug of choice for anything but trouble, yet still the compulsion to use exists.  I suggested he try again.

He made a couple more attempts to provide a definition of addiction that matched his understanding of the term and I shot those down in a similar fashion.  Our ability to reach a mutual understanding of the term was not successful.  Finally, Gerry remarked that back at the Harmony Center when we agreed that everything was addiction we seemed to have an effortless understanding and agreement.

Actually, based on Gerry’s definition of addiction, our supposed agreement was actually a misunderstanding.  I believe he really did mean that everything is addiction, while I was refering to ubiquitousness of addiction.  I’ve observed that most people have something that they turn to compuslively that prevents them from getting something else that they would claim is more important to them.

Despite the fact that I was arguing Gerry’s definition of addiction was invalid, it really is none of my business to tell someone their defintion is wrong.  However, it is really hard to communicate with people that have redefined words.  Since Gerry and I have different definitions of addiction, we cannot possibly talk about addiction since we use the same word to talk about different things.   It would simply be too confusing.

Clear communication begins with a shared understanding of what terms mean.  In the beginning, we sat around and decided what things would be called.  For instance, we decided that the color red would be called red.  Now sometimes you might run into someone that thinks an object you think is orange is actually red.  You could argue your point and perhaps check the wavelength to see if it is red (620-750nm) or orange (590-620nm) or you could simply learn your friend has a different defintion of red.

I used to go to Twelve Step meetings and listen to people go on and on about God.  I was baffled by the things they would say.  Then I started asking them what they meant by “God”.  They told me that God meant “nature” or “love” or “spirit”.  Everyone had a different idea and none of them matched the dictionary.  That is when I learned that “God” was a meaningless word.

This is one of the reasons I try to define the terms I use in this blog.  I want to be able to communicate clearly with whoever is reading.  Many terms in Buddhism have become commonplace, but the accurate definitions can be surprising.  In addition, I do not make up defintions to suit me, I use defintions that I have learned from authorities.

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