Monday, June 28, 2010

The Importance of Learning and Speaking Other People's Spiritual-Religious Languages

After I left the classroom as a teacher, I took a job in educational publishing sales. I was used to talking with people of high academic achievement, and I liked to challenge my students, so I was inclined to speak the same way in my new sales position. After all, I was selling to educators, philanthropic executive directors and political leaders.

My first Regional Manager (a friend and fellow member) told me something that changed the way I interacted with my contacts - and influenced how I approached talks in church. He said:

Quit talking at a level that threatens your audience. Very few people like to have to concentrate to know what you are saying. Speak their language.

The same is true in church. If the congregation has to focus energy simply on understanding the words you are using, or if they don't understand those words, they will not have energy left to contemplate what you are saying - or to hear the Spirit whisper something directly to them. If you can't explain a concept to a 12-year-old, you probably don't understand it fully - and your talk will have no impact on those who hear the words but not the message.

There is a much broader application with the concept of speaking their language, as well. Often, when we interact with people of different religions or denominations, there is misunderstanding and rejection in instances where we are saying essentially or even exactly the same thing - simply because we are not speaking the same language. We often use the same words to mean different things - like "faith", "salvation", "grace", "works", etc. On the other hand, within these exact same conversations, we often use different words to mean the same things - and, due to the words we use which have different meanings "in their language", we end up assuming a difference of opinion and/or belief when none actually exists.

Even when speaking the same language, it is possible to speak different languages. It's important to take the time to learn other people's spiritual-religious languages and speak to them in those languages.


Michael said...

The danger in your advice is that conversation becomes so "dumbed down" to allow for easy comprehension that explanations and ideas never lift and inspire to higher levels of thought.

Papa D said...

Michael, that's true only if I speak below the comprehension level of those with whom I am speaking. I don't advocate that, and I never will. I'm talking about understanding what they mean by the words they use and speaking at the top level they can understand.

For example, the lessons I teach in High Priest Group are radically different than those I taught in Primary. Sacrament Meeting, however, is a mixed bag - and it's important to understand who is being excluded by your delivery method in a setting like that.

Fwiw, I don't know ANYONE who has heard me speak - ever - who feels like I have "dumbed down" what I say. I believe passionately that it's important to undersdtand something deeply and profoundly - but it's more fundamental to understand and not be misunderstood. I'd rather have someone understand only at a basic level than misunderstand altogether - and that really is the point of this post.

Clifford said...

The way I see it, the brightest minds crave simplicity; lesser minds attempt to impress with verbosity.

I remember attempting to decipher a college textbook in which the author said something like, "The avian specimen engaged in the regular behaviorism of utilizing its mandible structure to depress a lever in order to solicit a reward function."

In other words, a bird pecked a lever to get food.