Why You Should Play Balderdash

Ruhani Walia
6 min readDec 19, 2020

And tackle the noble attempt of defining “self.”

Passion and motivation are nothing without discipline.

This is something I’ve come to believe based on severity and influence. By severity and influence, I mean how affected we are by each emotion in isolation in comparison to how affected we are by them in combination.

In isolation, I find that motivation is fleeting, discipline is lacklustre, and passion is arbitrary. To contextualize and further explain why none is effective in isolation, let’s take the example of a project.

Motivation: You start a lemonade stand. You’re so excited to make money and try your hand at business. You’re motivated by the challenge and its novelty. After 5 days of standing in the hot sun and making nary a sale, you figure it’s not cut out for you.

Discipline: You start a lemonade stand. You prepare by making a list of all the ingredients you’ll need. Despite standing in the hot sun, you tell yourself you’ll at least round out the week. After the week is up, you decide you don’t really care for it.

Passion: You want to help people. You notice construction workers near your house and wish someone would show them empathy, maybe offer a glass of water. Your passion gives you empathy and you notice the problem, but you don’t activate anything.

Granted, each of these examples is fictional and likely biased to help prove my point, but they illustrate quite well, I think, where each is lacking. Ideally, with each element in combination, you’d have a scenario like this:

Passion: You notice construction workers who seem like they need to hydrate. You feel empathy for them because of your passion for helping others.

Motivation: Excited at the idea of making someone’s day better, you have a bias towards action and decide to bring them a glass of lemonade. While you’re at it, you wonder if you might be able to set up a stand to make money and try your hand at business — a new challenge!

Discipline: You prepare by making a list of all the ingredients you’ll need. Your goal is to last at least a week. Despite having to stand in the hot sun, you complete the week.

This narrative seems much more organized and coherent. Why? Because it’s chronological. In many cases, I would argue, we often follow a pattern of passion, motivation, and continuation through discipline.

The initial spark of an idea is constructed by passion or a desire to do something. The motivation carries the initial action to act on the idea. The discipline carries it through even once the motivation runs dry.

This is just one model of thinking about the distinction between the three things, but more importantly, it pokes at the question:

What are we most influenced by?

According to David Hume, we are more influenced by our feelings than by reason. Arguably, both passion and motivation are emotional elements. Discipline, which may be initiated by these emotional elements, is far more rational and logical.

Hume argued that if we could just accept that we are far more emotional than we are rational beings, we would be much calmer and quiet the internal battle that arises whenever it comes time to make a decision.

I agree with a lot of what Hume says about feelings and reasoning. I think that at our core, humans are emotional and compassionate beings. We may be rational and logical, but I argue there is a precursor to it — emotional motivation.

We all desire things. Those who are logical desire to be so. They wish to see the world in a way that makes the most sense to them, and that way may be reasoning. However, I think that the initial desire to understand and learn is something innately tied to feelings of curiosity, fear, and perhaps, confusion.

Bottom line — I don’t think we can be rational without first being emotional.

Even in the case of differentiating between believing and knowing, the real root is defining what a fact is vs. what a belief is. While the former seems more empirical, isn’t the truth that we all, at some point, had to decide to collectively agree on a belief?

For example, we may choose to believe in science. To believe that we don’t actually live in a Matrix-like world and are living, what we know to be, reality. This is a fact to us. That life is real. But at some point, we all decided to believe it as a collective truth, ultimately making it a fact.

Life would be at a standstill if we didn’t choose to turn beliefs into facts.

We’d get no sleep at night if we constantly thought about how we can never prove that anything we believe is actually true.

Another interesting point Hume brings up that I have often pondered is the attempt to rationalize things that are entirely reliant on emotion. My analogy here is the mismatch of tools. Trying to rationalize something like religion is like trying to measure a body of water with a measuring tape.

The tools don’t match.

Hume has a similar belief. He thinks that religious belief isn’t the product of reason, so we cannot expect to persuade others to believe in religion with facts. There simply are none.

As Hume would say, trying to be rational about everything is a special kind of madness.

Another concept Hume touches upon is this idea of the self and self-identity. His argument is that there is no such thing as a “core self.” He believed that we are not definable people, but rather, a collection of different perceptions.

With this, I disagree. To some extent, yes, what we define as “self” is vague and unbound. His view is to say that because of its ambiguity, it is negligible. My view is that because it is ambiguous, it is up to us to decide what it is. It is non-unanimous but still exists.

It’s like if you were playing Balderdash with your identity.

(For those who don’t know, this is a game where you make definitions for fake words). Hume is the realist, which is quite ironic considering his arguments for humans being emotional beings, who says that because the word is fake, there is no point defining it or playing the game.

I’m saying PLAY BALDERDASH. Just because no one else has a definition for you or the entirety of humanity doesn’t have one for your identity doesn’t mean there isn’t any point thinking about what it is or figuring it out.

You write your own identity.

Of course, the questions about self then venture into the territory or permanence. If you’re not the same person you were a few years ago when you made a promise to someone, are you still obligated to keep that promise?

There are two theories about the permanence of self. One is body theory, which argues that personal identity persists over time simply because you occupy the same body.

Memory theory says that you are a collection of memories and what you retain is what makes up who you are, so you are not constant.

My in-progress opinion on this is that we are each psychologically connected to ourselves. Sure, the priority of our memories changes over time. Sure, we lose some and gain new ones. But the impacts of our memories and experiences are not things that go away. They change over-time for sure, but they do not disappear.

I don’t think we are constant beings.

I think humans are dynamic. It is normal for us to take on, for example, various identities with the different people in our lives. It’s unfair to assume a single definition for yourself given that you see and hear new and more things each day.

I’ll end off with what I said earlier — you write your own identity.

Play the balderdash. The struggle is worth it.

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