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The Watering Hole - Conversations on 21st. Century religion.

Communicating Effectively


 
Abstract

We not only have lost the ability to communicate with each other, we have adopted communication and thinking styles that remove us from thoughtful communications. Can we get back the ability to communicate? Yes, if we work at it.


Communicating Effectively

Not communicating effectively

My wife has a very effective technique for winning arguments. She says cheerfully, "I win!" It's so ridiculous it cracks me up, I laugh, and she wins. As a larger society, though, we not only have lost the ability to communicate with each other, we have adopted communication and thinking styles that remove us from thoughtful communications.

We yell, but we aren't heard. We see people doing this everywhere, and we are all falling into this pattern with them. These are the shouting points people. They have deeply held beliefs or ideas. They have summarized them into slogans and social media memes that can be hurled at others. They are pithy statements intended to convey a very terse condensation of an idea. But they don't communicate.

"Labels are shortcuts to misunderstanding" - Dorian Scott Cole

Having a conversation with shouting points people is useless and counterproductive. You walk away frustrated. They walk away even more hardened in their opinion. Many have adopted the same style as politicians. If you raise a question or point they don't want to answer, they simply change the conversation to another shouting point. "How do you like your turkey prepared?" Answer: "Here's the thing. I like chicken on most days, and they are better for our economy." See my Part 1 article: How to Handle Saying What People Don't Want to Hear

If you persist in changing the subject back and trying to get an intelligent response, they simply call you a name. Because in their mind, belittling you and your point of view makes them the winner. Of course, this often results in a heated argument.

In our polarized society, we have a couple of problems that make this worse. One, certain things are wrapped up in people's identity. You can't threaten someone's identity and win. They will fight to the death to maintain who they are. Two, many people believe that they can't be wrong. This is especially true of some religious and political points of view. These are the conversations that spiral downward into condemnation and name calling. At the end, one is throwing lit matches at the other shouting, "Jesus loves you, and he's sending you to Hell! This is what Hell fells like!"

This "in your face" style of communicating turns people away. For example, recent studies have shown that people simply apply the label "liberal" to ideas they don't like when they hear them, and never consider those ideas. These people associate the label liberal with people who think they know more than others, think themselves more moral than others, and tell others how to live.

I know from focus groups that men reject that strategy out of hand. So do many women. They value their freedom of choice. In my recent unbiased analysis of the 2016 Presidential election, many of these attitudes came to light, and showed many problems with how we communicate. (I'm politically independent, and vote for both parties.)

I think this style of thinking comes from the "debate style" of thinking, in which one person has to win. And from the "God is on my side" style of thinking that says only one moral idea can be right. Scientific American recently published this article: The Personality of Political Correctness, which applies to both sides. I think it also comes from forcing laws into being through the Supreme Court, rather than allowing States to change and bring their changes to Federal legislation. We tend to get ahead of ourselves. Compromise becomes a "sinful" act. Very intelligent people end up screaming very stupid things at each other in order to win.

Screaming at each other makes us miss what is really important. For example, when people are shout at each other about police deaths, what they are missing is the larger issue of the rules police departments follow about "Escalation of Force." What is missing for most departments is de-escalation of force. How can the police de-escalate a situation so that everyone walks away? As long as the police only have to follow Escalation of Force rules, they will never even be reprimanded for fatal shootings. Many police departments are now pursuing this methodology.

Next: So how do we fix this?

- Dorian

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How do we fix it?

Those of us who are married, often have to ask ourselves during an argument, "Do we want to be right, or remain married?" We need to expand that thinking a little. After 47 years, I'm still crazy about my wife, and she still tolerates me. That could change. There is some advantage to compromise. Maybe I'm not as absolutely right as I think I am.

If we don't change how we are perceived by others, we are done before we even get out the gate.

In the stone age, if people didn't get along, they could just smash the other guys head with a rock. It's definitely best those times are gone, because most of us would have warped heads. But this is what we do on social media. Don't agree? Throw something. We're back to throwing stones.

Humorist Will Rogers never met a man he didn't like. He and Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), could stand before an audience and say things like, "A fool and his money are soon elected," (http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/09/05/will-rogers-politics-10-quotes-156762) and "I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man's reasoning powers are not above the monkey's." http://www.twainquotes.com/Politics.html

These two men were personable, down to earth, and used humor to make people laugh at uncomfortable topics. We forget we are people when we communicate, and that the other person may have a perspective that's valuable. For example, Republicans are satirized as unfeeling Scrooges who hate social programs, and Democrats are satirized as people who simply want to throw endless mountains of money at every problem. My position is, both satires are correct. (Laugh here.) To me, if you see a major problem, then find a proven solution that cures it, not avoids it or makes it forever. See, I can say funny things, too.

There are solutions, if we lay down our ideologies, our stones and lit matches, and begin to talk like human beings about the human experience and what can make it better. We can do this if we can just remember that we are human, not shouting points. We can use humor to keep it in perspective.

Sometimes when people begin to throw stones, like, "You're an idiot," I respond with something like, "Thanks for your vote of confidence," or "I was an idiot but studied to be a moron. I flunked, but they let me have the title anyway." Anything to sap away some of that hateful energy that goes into our conversations. Do you want to be right, or be divorced?

Generally when we're picking from that pile of stones to throw at each other, we don't think to ask probing questions about why people feel the way they do. We just assume they are wrong, and throw the next stone. Why do people think the way they do? If we can accept each other as human beings, we can find out why. For example, I have a lot of friends who are atheists. Having had many conversations with many of them, there are very definite, reasonable, well thought out or felt reasons why they are atheists. For some it's their reaction to religious people who have been throwing stones and lit matches at them. The ones throwing the stones are already divorced from others.

Next: Walking in others' shoes

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Walking in others' shoes

When you approach people in a threatening way, for example you are going to attack their opinion or attempt to correct it, they go into defensive mode. Attack prompts defensive behavior. Whatever their opinion is, they have to defend it from your assault. That means they have ceased to listen and are marshalling all of their mind to defend. The open, receptive mind is nailed and cemented closed.

I like to use the following as an example. At one time I was a manager in one of the largest companies in the world. I inherited a regional field organization that had been plagued by years of infighting. No one was happy, and the customers and business suffered. I spent two weeks traveling with the representatives, listened to their complaints, realized that the business was partly to blame, and I engaged them in making reforms. At the end of two weeks, the problems were gone and didn't return. I walked in their shoes, talked to them like real people, and engaged them in creating the solution.

The easiest things in the world for us to do is go around shouting, "This is company policy...." or "This is our political agenda...." Or "God said...." By doing this we minimize others' problems and dehumanize them. We could just as easily have shouted, "You're not important! You're problems are irrelevant! Our minds are made up and we can't listen because you're wrong!"

Another example: I wanted to know why people voted for Trump. I asked and listened like they were human beings, not dimwitted sheep, or worse, and I didn't accuse them. They told me an earful. Their vote wasn't about what most people assumed it was about. We have to ask. We have to listen. We have to walk a mile in their shoes. But not to be trust bandits and turn around and accuse them. And not to become them. But to be human and understand their point of view. Unbiased analysis of the 2016 Presidential election,

Next: The example of Christ

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The example of Christ

I also like to use the example of Christ. He lived in an era of Jewish extremism, hate, and animosity. The Sadducee party, coming from those who rebuilt the second temple, thought that they had been invaded and taken into exile because they had failed to follow the religious rules. So their response was an extreme form of religion in which people really didn't matter, but religious rules were absolutes. Christ called them hypocrites.

Many of the Jews wanted a new King, a military leader who would throw off their Roman rulers. Many of the Jews fought the Romans for over 200 years, with no gains. Animosity toward the Romans was always roiling below the surface, even though the Romans brought a long period in which they were not attacked by other nations.

The Biblical land was a hodge podge of differing views, and they rejected each other. Israel broke away from Judah, so that there were two kingdoms, or ethnic groups. The Samaritans were a group who clung to the first five books of the Jewish Bible, but rejected the Prophets. None of these three groups liked each other. Israel didn't believe in divorce and remarriage, and the Samaritans did, so the Jews hated them, wouldn't help them, and wouldn't occupy the same space.

Jesus gave them two examples. He often talked in stories. He told them of a Jewish man who was beaten by bandits and lay naked and suffering alongside the road. A Samaritan helped him to lodging and food, and paid for it. Who, Jesus asked, is your neighbor?

Another time, Jesus traveled through Samaria. He stopped at a well by himself. A Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water. Not only was it not appropriate to talk to a Samaritan, it was also inappropriate in Jewish culture to talk to a woman. The woman had had five husbands. Did Jesus attack her, and tell her she was considered condemned for having five husbands? No. He acknowledged it, but never said she was wrong. He did make it know to others that he had not come to judge and condemn anyone.

Jesus certainly didn't avoid people the Jews considered unworthy and they hated. For the Prostitute, he asked those who accused her, which one had no sin - he should throw the first stone. He went out of his way to dine with tax collectors, who were usually cheats. He visited the Lepers, who were considered impure from sins. He talked to women, who many Jews considered unworthy. He helped Roman soldiers, who they despised. On the cross, he said of a thief that he would be with him in Paradise.

He didn't walk in to see these people, and say, "These are the things I'm against. Have you done any of these things?" And the lepers, prostitutes, those with multiple marriages, and the thief, he healed or accepted them, without condemnation. But the hypocrites, he condemned, such as the Sadducees who condemned him for not following all of the religious rules, and he ignored the man on the other cross who demanded Jesus take power over the situation. Jesus didn't follow their expectations.

In this era of rapid social change, we would do well to be silent about those things we think are sinful. As the Apostle Paul said, all things are lawful. They may not be the best things for us, but we are not condemned for them. None of us have the right to judge others.

1 Corinthians 10:23 New International Version (NIV) "'I have the right to do anything,' you say — but not everything is beneficial. 'I have the right to do anything' — but not everything is constructive.

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