reality check

Today I was confronted with my inability to communicate ideas clearly. There’s a certain philosophical problem I’ve been exploring for a while, and to which I believe I’ve come to a reasonable conclusion (the specific problem is not particularly important now). But yesterday I was trying to explain it to someone and it did not work. The problem was not that I wasn’t able to convince them, but that they never understood my point of view. They didn’t poke holes in my reasoning, showing it to be flawed (which it could be). The problem is we were simply arguing two different arguments.

The key problem is that they had certain assumptions, and I didn’t approach them appropriately. So everything I said was not taken only for what I said, but came with the additional baggage of what my viewpoint was assumed to be. So as I’d say one thing, I’d find my self being contradicted based on something completely different.

Although it’d be nice to say the person should have started the conversation with a blank slate, I should have built up more of a foundation for my viewpoint first. I should have told them what assumptions I was making. At least then they could have either disagreed with my assumptions, or moved on to understanding my argument as a whole.

It seems the tendency to make this error is quite natural. We think about something, study it, and come to know it so that, for ourselves, it can be stated quite concisely. But it’s only meaningful to someone with the same background of information to whom there is nothing greater hidden behind the conciseness of our statement. If you said “E=mc^2” to the man on the street when the formula was first derived, you can’t expect he would get excited by it. Even if you said it to a physicist, you might have to explain some of the work that was needed to arrive at that conclusion before they truly understood the significance.

This is something important to remember in our Christian walk. Often we may have a great understanding of the Bible, the plan of salvation, and God’s love for man, but that doesn’t mean we know how to communicate it to others. Many people don’t even understand the vocabulary we use.

I’ve met some people who consider saying “Jesus loves you” to a random stranger witnessing. But at best it seems the person will consider this act odd. Not because the truth in the statement is odd, but because they have no context which allows them to understand the depth of meaning behind it. Instead we should follow the example in Peter in Acts 2, starting at where the person is at, and taking them to Christ.


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October 2008
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