The Three Punctuations

The Three Punctuations

The more I read and the more I have conversations with people about what I’ve read, the more I realize that there are three kinds of people in the world. When it comes to learning new things and adopting new beliefs, there are three distinct approaches people seem to take. When I talk to people about various topics I am researching, the type of person they are seems to come right out. These approaches to learning are:

  • The Period
  • The Exclamation Point
  • The Question Mark

Period: The Indifferent Approach

The period is the person who doesn’t really care either way when presented with a new idea. She isn’t interested in learning more about it, but she also doesn’t have rigid belief about the subject matter. She is indifferent. For the period, life is neither something to be conquered, nor is it something to be explored. It is merely something to be endured. Think Meursault from The Stranger. If you’re a period, there isn’t much you wish to investigate, and there isn’t much you wish to defend. You are simply a drifter.

Exclamation Point: The Inflexible Approach

The exclamation point is the person who has his mind made up about everything. When presented with new ideas that challenge his existing beliefs, he holds fast to what he already knows. He doesn’t consider alternatives. Instead, he considers it a badge of honor to adamantly defend what he already believes to be true. Not only does he dogmatically dig in his heels when presented with a conflicting idea, but he seeks out opposing viewpoints and attempts to convert their proponents to his way of thinking. The exclamation point is both the fundamentalist preacher and militant atheist. Subject-agnostic, the exclamation point is an evangelist. He has an agenda, he is on a mission, and the last thing he is going to do is change his mind.

Question Mark: The Inquisitive Approach

The question mark is the person who is driven by an unquenchable intellectual curiosity. When faced with new ideas that conflict with her existing perspectives, she welcomes them in. She is not afraid to consider anything and everything. In fact, she seeks out those ideas and perspectives which challenge her beliefs rather than those which confirm them. Unlike the exclamation point, she has a high student-teacher ratio–she is infinitely more interested in learning than she is in teaching, in understanding than she is in persuading. But, unlike the period, she is actually engaged with learning. She wants to find things out. She longs for the discovery. She is on an eternal quest for knowledge and personal growth.

Period, Exclamation Point, or Question Mark?

So, which one of these is the optimal approach to take in life? I’m sure you won’t be incredibly surprised when I admit that I think we would all be better off with more question marks in the world. Humanity doesn’t need the indifferent, and it certainly doesn’t need the dogmatic. Humanity needs the curious ones. We need those who are interested in asking questions more so than they are in defending answers. We need those who are proactively seeking out knowledge of the world rather than those who are stagnantly drifting through. As the wonderful folks over at SkillShare like to say, “The future belongs to the curious.”

Are you with me on this? You might want to stop and think about which kind of person you are. Sure, we all have moments of apathy. We all have biases and agendas that influence our perceptions. So I guess the better question to ask yourself is, “What kind of person am I striving to become?” Are you asking more questions? Are you learning new things? Are you changing your mind? If not, you are depriving the rest of us of the best version of yourself you have to offer. And, more importantly, you are depriving yourself a world full of amazing discoveries. I think it’s time to adopt a posture of curiosity. I think it’s time to start ending your sentences with questions marks. I think it’s time to embrace the tilt.

What do you think?

Today I Learned That...


About Douglas E Rice

Douglas E Rice is just a guy who likes to learn stuff.
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2 Responses to The Three Punctuations

  1. LesDossey says:

    I’m a combination of the exclamation point and the question mark. There are principles I hold in high esteem! And there is everything else?

    • douglaserice says:

      Thanks, friend. I appreciate the comment. I think that, for better or worse, “exclamation points” make a bigger dent in the world. If your values a positive and benefit the rest of us, I think we’re happy to have you. Because you get stuff done.

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