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A Crash Course in Inviting Communication

August 10, 2009

This stuff seems so basic…

I would like to write about how you might want to treat people if you would like to endear yourself to them. What you should do if you want your communication to invite, rather than repel. OK, so maybe this isn’t about the general person, but I can say this is what would work for me.

What do I mean…if you would like to invite? Wouldn’t everyone? Well, no. If you aren’t about making friends (either to yourself or to your cause), then these rules don’t matter. And I understand when you might want to make friends. If you just want to thrash someone (because they are wrong…on the Internet…and justice cannot be robbed), then that’s understandable. But if you want someone to possibly come to your side, instead of just leaving the conversation in an angry huff…well, you’ll need a more effective strategy.

This entry isn’t comprehensive in any way. I’m speaking for myself, I guess. And what repels and invites me.

Anyway…here I go!

You’ve got to be head-over-heels accommodating, understanding, and humble.

Seriously, the biggest issue I see with a lot of people is they want to take a high road. Now, of course, even if you believe that your way is obviously true and that you do have a high road, you will repel me by acting this way. Even if I’m looking for advice or help, I will be strongly repelled by someone who acts high and mighty in giving their advice. And if I’m not looking for advice, commentary, criticism, and so on, I will loathe someone who deems that they know best.

What do I respond better to? I respond to accommodation, understanding, and humility. Even if I’m realizing that I’m wrong (a humbling process in itself), I am incredibly impressed (and further humbled and endeared) if someone can walk me through it without throwing salt in my wound (or even giving that appearance). I am incredibly impressed if someone slows down when they see I’m hesitating, doubting, struggling.

Some of the most annoying people when I was growing up were those who would harp on me for being Mormon. Who would insist I was so obviously duped. Who would point out my ignorance of history. These people shattered their credibility in this way. And when these people would act high and mighty when I was disaffiliating with the church (even finding out some of the things they said were true!), that most certainly did not endear me to their cause.

But this isn’t just reserved for non-Mormon Christians. Every group will have some people who do it. the problem is…this is notoriously INeffective. I think everyone instinctively bristles at people who act this way.

People who act this way are often dead right. I mean…being right is one thing. A pedestrian who has crosses when she has right of way is right. But if an oncoming car ignores what is right, then that pedestrian may find herself being dead right.

It is particularly unnerving when people psychoanalyze. Mainly because they often are wrong and presumptuous, but even if they might be right. One of the thing Jared from LDS Alive in Christ doesn’t get is that he often psychoanalyzes like crazy, using the scriptures (which notoriously psychoanalyze.) “You are angry/resentful because these are harsh truths to bear…and the scriptures tell us that’s the case.”

Actually, if people are angry, it is because of this know-it-all attitude. But the reply will be, “But that’s what the scriptures say! I have experienced this personally, so I do know this.” The frustrating part is not the analysis (which may be wrong or right)…it’s that the psychoanalysis doesn’t doesn’t change anything. IF the psychoanalyst is right, he is dead right. So, while he often will claim satisfaction in his verdict, what does it profit him, if he is doing nothing to disarm the rebellion or anger and is actually arming such resentment?

The psychoanalyst often replies, “You need to humble yourself to see the evidence and these truths.” Perhaps. But if someone needs to be humbled, don’t start an arms race of pride by acting high and mighty. This is inimical to the goal.

(Note that everything I have said here could be applied to any psychoanalyst, so don’t presume I’m saying someone like Jared is correct with his analysis or conclusions…it’s just that any analyst will repel, raise contention and disagreement, and then reason that the only reason people are growing irritated is because they — whatever their cause is — is right.)

Kill people with kindness. It’s the cheesiest phrase, but it works. The arms race of pride will only raise pride. It will turn an ex-mormon apologetic defending the pride of his Mormon history. It will turn someone who even knows he’s wrong on one issue into an ardent defender, to prevent his “death.” It’s an instinct of survival and preservation to do this. But if you do something unexpected, and back down, turn off, apologize, repent, and change tactics, you can melt previously hard hearts in an instant. This process, in fact, is much more humbling than proudly crying for humility.

You know what’s been the most humbling times? When I’ve been trapped in a pride arms race, doing or saying charged things to someone and their doing or saying charged things to me…and then…all of a sudden, they do something nice. They say something nice. It’s intensely humbling, because I realize the full extent of the pettiness and realize I’ve been a turbojerkhead to someone who really isn’t all that bad. I couldn’t see it while the race was going on though.

I guess I didn’t really get very far in what I had to say. And I know even I’m not perfect at this. I know…sometimes, I just want to thrash people. Every day, though, I try to work on it, because thrashing really doesn’t help anything in the long run. Yet still I see several comments, such lamentable comments, that make me wonder if people even get this. Is it a mystery? When people want to preach with harsh and uncompromising, unaccommodating words (whether for or against a religion or any other thing), even if they can point to scripture or intuition or whatever else to back up their methods, don’t they realize that this simply is ineffective?

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3 Comments
  1. Amen

  2. I agree about kindness – but I do have a caveat. Sometimes a person can choose not to have the conversation – to walk down the block rather than cross the street.

    So, I agree if you choose to have a conversation with someone, to try to share beliefs, I think respect is worthwhile. But it’s not always necessary to convince others of anything – to even discuss/debate beliefs. I think it’s nice to be able to choose our battles.

    It’s also hard, in the conversations we choose – to determine what is “fair game” for debate. If quoting scripture is off limits (or what a prophet said) – is science based research also off the table?

    Sometimes it’s difficult to know what one person will find offensive and disrespectful – where another person will find illuminating (‘oh, you believe that because of your interpretation of that scripture in the KJV of the bible).

  3. aerin, I agree. But in my mind, if we are picking our battles and we decide that one isn’t worth it, then we don’t need to worry about anything else said about “inviting communication” because we aren’t seeking it. We don’t care about getting others to agree with us or like us or feel we are reasonable when we walk away — we just want to walk away..

    Regarding fair game…if I have any hopes of creating an inviting conversation, and the other side is opposed to science based research, then yes, I am say that if I want to *get anywhere positive with them*, I probably won’t do it through bludgeoning them with scientific research. Some may say to that, “But science is reality!” or something similar. But 1) Every side says that and 2) regardless of if something is “right,” if you do not establish credibility, then all you end up is dead right.

    This credibility is vital. So, what someone should *first* do is figure out some way to reach the other person on their turf, in order to establish the credibility of their evidences (whether it be scripture, prophecy, scientific research). What I haven’t figured out yet is how to reliably do this. I think credibility depends on subjective experiences that we don’t know how to just turn on or off.

    This onus is tough. Perhaps insurmountable (maybe the goal of communication and understanding is a silly pipe dream?) Who wants to go to square 1, trying to establish credibility for things that they take for granted? Especially when no matter how hard they try, they may fail?! So, I come to the conclusion sometimes that perhaps most people don’t want to have meaningful communication. Perhaps, most people don’t want the other side to agree with them at the end of the conversation. Maybe, most people just want to get their side out and that’s all. Maybe, most people simply want to thrash and walk away.

    I know frequently, I don’t want someone to agree with me. I don’t care if they agree or not…I just want to wail on them for a while and then leave. This is something I try to work on though, because wailing on someone really isn’t all that satisfying in the long run.

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