Toward a Meaning of Depth

I often hear the term deep thrown around to describe various things, i.e., deep conversation or deep discussions or deep friendships. Typically, the term is used in a very positive way, it is a characteristic that we desire things to have. I agree that I want depth in a lot of things, but I have realized that there is a lack of clarity, to me at least, as to what a we mean when by depth.

I think that we usually take deep to mean either serious or abstract. When we have a very serious conversation we describe it as deep. When someone throws out an abstract idea in a discussion we call them a deep thinker. But I don’t think that is necessarily the best way to understand depth.

To illustrate, lets first explore what we mean when we describe something as shallow, presumably the opposite of deep.

Shallow is usually synonymous with trite. A trite conversation is one that is has no real importance or significance. Talking about your hair color has no real effect on anyone else beyond some superficial opinion judgment. So that seems a very insignificant thing.

If something being deep is the opposite of it being shallow, it would seem that depth implies that what is being discussed actually has some significance. It has an important impact on someone, it is meaningful.

In that sense, depth is not merely serious or abstract. In fact, something serious or abstract may actually be shallow if it is meaningless or insignificant.

So what is the significance of this meaning?

First, we need to realize that depth is probably a relative thing, by which I mean based on a situation. So for instance, a conversation would be deep if the things said had a significant or meaningful impact on their audience. If someone is dealing with a situation, depth would involve giving them good advice as opposed to changing the subject to something that has little impact on their situation. So a deep person would be one who is able to discern what is important in a situation or conversation and able to express things meaningfully and positively affect others. A deep relationship would be one where this occurs mutually, each individual positively affecting the other, whether that be by encouragement, advice, constructive criticism, or some other means.

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