Those close to me know I am a little paranoid about communication. I have a deep seated conviction it’s much more difficult than we often acknowledge. So many things work against us.
For example, It’s frustrating to me that the more important a discussion is, the less likely it is to be held in a rational, well understood way. The more emotional we become the less we hear each other.
Take for example the question which has been careening through the internet super highway as it does every patriotic holiday:
Is America a Christian Nation.
The mere question likely causes reactions in many of you. Already you are preparing your arguments, ready to roll out your defenses, working to guess what my position is, being sure you know perhaps and responding emotionally even before I give you a clue. Just from asking the question. Others of you may just be sighing, preparing to move on to another blog, hoping to avoid the mine land which is such a question.
And even without the emotion, it’s the complexity of a question like that which is problematic. The words are so vague and loaded all at once. What is meant by Christian and what is meant by nation, and what does it mean to try to define one vague concept (America) with two more loaded vague concepts?
But it’s not even mere vagueness that is the problem. It’s that the person asking the question already has an idea of what he means and expects you to know. Your answer may make him mad or cause strong agreement even though your answer and his question may not even be meaning the same thing!
Ok, so I can’t do a lot about most of that, but I did have one other thought which I’d like to play with here in this blog (and if you’re still with me at this point, you’re probably up for it:-)
It’s the linear nature of communication which is sometimes problematic. Ideas in my head are not linear sentences; they are concepts, images, sounds, groups of themes. But the only way I know to explain them is in linear words. Consider this: If I want to answer the above question with both a yes and a no, I immediately run into a problem as I try to sort out the order in which I should answer. If my first answer is one you disagree with it doesn’t matter if my second answer is one which agrees with you. At that point, it’s clearly a caveat, drowned out by my initial disagreement. On the other hand it may be that if I answer in a way you agree with and than follow it up with disagreement, then you will decide the first answer was not my “real” answer but just something I threw in to soften my real answer. And all the while in order to communicate, I have to guess what you think, in order to determine which answer I should start with to give me the best chance of assuring you hear me out.
So all that is a linear (if somewhat winding) way to say, I’d like to try an experiment. I’m going to let you choose which answer to that question you want to read first, or if you want to read both at all. So pick your poison. Read the one you agree with if you dislike conflict, the one you disagree with if you like conflict, and both if you care to understand what I really think. Know that whichever answer you choose is written with complete sincerity and (to my mind) compatibility with the other answer.
Click on the answer you want to read. Comment on either or both. If you want to comment on the experiment itself, for example, “How did the order in which you read the answers impact you or not. Was it a tough decision? Do you think it matters…” do that commenting here on this post.