Abusus Non Tollit Usum – latin for “The abuse doesn’t take away from the use”, was an eye opening phrase I learned from my father while taking one of his history courses in college. As an American living in Austria during the Iraq war I spent a lot of time trying to defend the basic goodness of the idea of America, and as a Catholic living in one of the most atheist countries in the world I also spent a lot of time defending my religion at the pub. So when I first heard this phrase it was at a time where it suddenly neatly packaged many of my arguments and feelings into one tidy sentence. That doesn’t happen often! So from that time on this phrase became on of the mantras in my life. In this post I won’t be trying to defend countries or religions, I’d just like to explore how you may be selling yourself short by writing off entire segments of knowledge and information because of some basic disagreement. Stick with me…
It seems in today’s world everyone is quick to write off entire brands, teachers, or schools of thought because of one flaw. People that have been discredited in some manner are declared entirely useless and banished from polite conversation. This is common with historical figures for example. Someone will quote Jefferson for their purpose and then the next person will quip “well, Jefferson had slaves too, are you on board with that?” as though all things he did and said therefore are discredited.
Too me this never made sense, if someone has an excellent point and is dead on in one area, but completely wrong in another, how does that make them any different from the rest of us?
Here’s an obvious example – politics. How could one party or the other neatly package all your opinions and have you agree on every topic? Having grown up in Europe I wasn’t exposed to the US party lines until I was in college, and by then I had learned to develop my own opinions outside of the two particular parties in the US. This to me though seems like a great example where people sling insults and condemn the other party as evil and are completely blind to the good sides that both parties have. Only very few people seem to be reading the liberal vs conservative takes on any subject and then forming a decision based on an original thought. That’s about as much as I’ll ever write on politics though!
The main reason I thought I’d write this post though is because of some of the books I read and blogs I frequent. I for one, have read and gotten a ton of value from what would be considered evangelical christian leaning business and finance books. I’m not an evangelical christian by any stretch of the imagination, but 10 years ago I learned about Dave Ramsey and while almost everyone I knew mocked me I enjoyed reading his stuff and benefited immensely from it. I love the Boundaries books, Ziglar’s tapes, Dan Miller’s books, and a ton more. They have taught me so many concepts I didn’t learn in school or in life or on the job, and have given me a huge advantage over those not paying attention and helped me avoid common pitfalls. Friends ask me for book recommendations all the time, and whenever I give the caveat that it might have some religious aspects to it, those titles are regularly dismissed as a result of it. Even my own wife wont always take my recommendations! (I’ll be sending her a link to this post to make my case)
Just to clarify, this isn’t all that I read, but it’s commonly something I’ll bring up in conversation and get strange looks for. You can talk about Malcolm Gladwell and Jim Collins all day long without raising an eyebrow, but when I bring up a Dave Ramsey type I’ll get eye rolling among many of my friends and peers.
This problem doesn’t just exist around religious or political stuff. I have regularly touted about Tim Ferriss on this blog and he has a terrible reputation in certain circles. People are missing out on the concepts because of personality clashes! Any self help style person for that matter is dismissed because of the cheese that comes with them. Even ancient philosophers are ignored because of certain fatally flawed theories!
I’m not claiming to get this right all the time myself, we all have information overload nowadays and need to come up with ways to filter large segments out, but I think we could all benefit from a little more awareness and attention to how we are filtering things and whether it will really help us.
I believe we need to separate concepts from the teachers/parties/authors and give them their due consideration, in the same way that we should try to manage systems and not employees in a business. I know in my life I’ve benefited from a wide spectrum of books and teachings, and I’m always saddened when people dismiss entire concepts due to one disagreement. We all just need to remember more often – the abuse does not take away from the use.