10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 11 For who among people knows the thoughts of a person except the spirit of the person that is in him? So also the thoughts of God no one knows, except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God. 13 We also speak these things, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.
14 But a natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But the one who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is discerned by no one. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.
1 Corinthians 2:10-16 NASB
Welcome back to the PSALMS to God podcast! This is your host Ree, and I want to talk about communication… How we communicate better. How we handle difficult conversations. How we disagree with each other in a Godly fashion—that last part being the key! Something I struggle with, and one of the things that I struggle with is also one of my biggest pet peeves! Which makes me annoyed with myself and also makes me a bit of a hypocrite, but we're going to talk about it anyway, because I'm trying to get better. I'm hoping that you will help me to get better by calling me out on it, as well as, by praying for me in this area that I struggle with: that is the act of making assumptions about your listener (or your reader)—where they are in their journey, where they are spiritually, where they are in terms of understanding the topic that you're discussing.
Realizing the Problem
Now when I first realized I struggled with this, I was in grad school. In grad school you have to write academic papers to graduate, and I thought it was absolutely crazy… I would write a paper. I would show it to my advisor, and he would just bleed all over it; just red marks everywhere. Now 90% of the red marks were about grammar—I suck at grammar—but the other 10% were usually statements that were complaining that:
- I wasn't making the material plain enough
- It wasn't written at a level such that someone with no knowledge of the topic could still understand it
- I was making the assumption that the reader had more knowledge than they would
And it would confuse me, because I'm trying to write for an academic paper. This is a scholarly journal, everyone who reads scholarly journals is a scholar, right? If you're reading a scholarly journal on computer science, shouldn’t you have foundational knowledge in computer science? Where am I supposed to assume this person is? I would have so much trouble figuring out were that line was, because there's also a line you cross where you've assumed that they're stupid, and you're now being condescending. When I went in that direction, I would also get the comments saying “No, you can assume that they know that; don't write that. That's too basic for the paper.” I just struggled at finding that happy medium of understanding where the reader was, and I feel like I probably do that on this podcast and on my YouTube channel.
I try not to, but this is often where I get long winded and I go off on tangents because I'm trying to fill in where I'm like, “Oh wait they may not know what I'm talking about. Someone who's a new believer or someone who's not a believer at all they may not know this phrase; they may not know the story.” It's very hard to pinpoint where people are.
At The Common Level
A fun fact is that most newspapers write their papers on an eighth grade reading level because I think that is the general consensus of something that is accessible for the majority of US citizens. So, how do you assess that when you're having a conversation? It's very difficult—like in a content creation standpoint, but it's also difficult in a one-on-one conversation or if you were a pastor at a church. And that is how I found out that people not doing this—I mean people not going back and revising the way my advisor was making me revise—annoyed me.
I would go to church services and pastors would get up and make these assumptions about what the people in the congregation knew and what they believed, and they would skip over things that are really crucial. In particular, there is a denomination… I have attended their services and they are constantly quoting somebody that they regard in high esteem. The first time I ever went to one of their services, I didn’t even know who that person was. I was like, “What are you talking about? Who is that? Do they go here? Why are we worried about what they said?”
So it's very confusing, and can be very off-putting for someone who doesn't know what's going on. Even as I have figured out who that person was, I'm not in agreement that that person is of high regard. I don't know; I've never read that person's writing. I really just don't care, but a lot of times they will try to prove doctrine by quoting this person. And I'm like “No, no, no. Let's go to the Bible. You need to go to the Bible.” I've had a lot of conversations with people in that denomination about why people don't take them seriously because of the fact that they can't substantiate their claims with the Bible and are leaning on this person that they claim to be a prophet.
This happens even more on a smaller scale when you get into for instance a Sabbath school setting. I went to a Sabbath school lesson once and the entire lesson was based on an interpretation that I didn't particularly agree with and I couldn't figure out how they even got the interpretation. But when they started they made the assumption that everybody already made the assumption. That it was just a fact. The assumption was that Moses stayed with his birth mother until he was 12, and I was like no. I mean the Bible says that he went back to his birth mother to suck, because they didn't have baby formula back then, right. But it says he grew and he was weaned and then he went to stay with the Pharaoh's daughter. My assumption was that he was a toddler probably somewhere between 3 and 5—not 12. I had actually never heard anybody interpret that to mean 12. But everyone else was like yeah that's what we were taught, and there was just this assumption that everybody in the world just knew that Moses was 12 when he left his mother—but it's not written in the Bible; it's not a fact. They couldn't go to the Bible and say yeah here's where it proves that is true. So, we got into a huge disagreement about this assumption, and I find myself in these situations actually quite often. But that's why I say it's a pet peeve of mine…
Who Am I Talking to?
Unfortunately though, as I mentioned when I talked about my experience in grad school, it's very difficult to know where people are. Like you're listening to me talk right now, and I don't know anything about you. I don't know if you're also in the United States. Are you from the South, like me, or are you from the North? Are you from the West Coast? Are you around the same age as me? Are you older? Are you younger? What kind of experiences have you had in life? Are you also a believer? Are you a Sabbath keeper? We may not agree on a lot of things doctrinally, or we may actually agree on a lot. I don't know, because I have no idea who all is listening. I have seen that I have listeners that are not in the United States, which is why you hear me sometimes disclaiming that I'm talking about the United States when I give out a statistic or a figure or a reference point. But I don't know! So when I make episodes and when I start thinking about content, I'm really telling you things from my point of view or my understanding.
And because I study the Word a lot, and because I have a background in research and academia, sometimes it may not be the most accessible. And that's a failure on my part. It's something I struggle with, but I also understand how it can be frustrating as a listener, because:
- It can be confusing
- It can make you feel as though I'm being condescending if I try too hard to come back and overcorrect
- It can also make you disagree with something you actually agree with because you think I'm making a point that I'm not making
- Or the point doesn't make sense, or something along those lines
- It can lead my videos to be long because I'm over explaining or I'm having to go back and explain things that need more context or whatever and that's difficult
So I'm telling you: I struggle with that; pray for me, and always feel 100% free to ask questions if it doesn't make sense. That is not my goal; my goal is not to confuse anybody, and I want you to feel comfortable being like “Hey, you lost me there, okay. You made an assumption that doesn't hold.” Call me out! I will not be upset. And I like to engage with people—well let me rephrase that. I like to engage with people who are polite. I do not like engaging with people who are being rude about saying that they don't agree or that they're confused. I will point that out; that's part of why I'm having this whole series talking about how we talk to each other.
One of the podcasts that I think handles this conundrum well—that I would actually like to implement this method on my podcast; I just haven't found a co-host yet. So if you're interested, maybe there's a spot there for you—is the Bible Project. I started watching their content on YouTube, found out they had a podcast, I've listened to some of their podcast episodes. And one of the things that I really enjoy about how they present information is that they have two people that represent kind of opposite sides—not in terms of belief or doctrine, but in terms of how they think. So you have one person who is very clearly more academic in their thinking, not to say they're more educated; there is a difference, but just how they think. I relate to that person, that it's more ones and zeros, more going into like “Oh this is the Greek definition of this word and it means this and it was used here and there.” And they're going deep and getting into things… It really sounds like a college lecture more so than a sermon or just a general conversation. But then you have the other person who I think represents more of the general audience that would be listening, and occasionally he will interject and ask questions for the other person to clarify.
I think it's so helpful, because it keeps the person who is more academic in thinking on track, and keeps them from saying things that don't make sense to the average person or people who are not familiar with that thinking style or the knowledge base that they have. But it also doesn't put the burden of guessing where people are on that person because they have someone there to help them with it—and so that's why I would like to have a co-host who has more of a people mindset; who who is more of a people person as opposed to a ones and zeros person, like myself. I feel like it would balance the podcast; I just haven’t found that person yet.
But I think that that is something to strive for when we have general conversations; making sure that we surround ourselves with people like that and we develop relationships where we're comfortable calling each other out and having those conversations. So one, not getting mad because you don't understand it. I've noticed a lot of times when we don't understand, instead of recognizing that I don't understand what you said, we get mad and assume that you're crazy. You're stupid. You're false teaching. You're this; you're that. And it comes off very aggressive and very angry, and it's like I'm mad at you because I don't understand what you said, but that's a me problem not necessarily a you problem.
But then also, we get mad when people don't understand what we say, and it's like “Well, what's wrong with you? You should understand; I said that plainly.” I worked with someone who would be like, “I clearly stated…” And we would be, “If people have questions, it wasn't clear, right?”
And so, there's this balance that has to come from both parties.
I as a speaker have to be aware that sometimes I say things that don't come across the way I intend them to or that I am unable to make information accessible. Maybe I'm not the best presenter of information, or maybe I do a great job at it. It’s hit and miss, right? I have to be aware that if you don't understand what I said, I bear some of that as a responsibility. Some of that is my fault.
But also I have to understand as a listener, or you have to understand as a listener, that I don't necessarily know where you are and sometimes I'm going to fall short. So sometimes you're misunderstanding something that does make sense. Generally speaking, if I said it, it made sense to me but it just doesn't make sense to you. And so instead of attacking or harassing or name-calling, we have to be able to politely say, “Hey, that didn't really make sense. I don't understand how you got that,” or “I don't understand where you were going with that,” etc. etc.
When we can both do that; when I can accept the criticism that I wasn't able to convey a point and the other person can tell me hey you didn't successfully make the point, then you can have a beneficial discussion. Again, if I'm not receptive that I have a fault and if you're unable to explain to me that I have a fault, or if you just walk away—you just don't point it out because you're afraid that you'll sound dumb (there are no dumb questions!)—then the conversation falls apart. The point is missed, and it doesn't actually help us.
So, going forward I am resolved to not being upset when people point out the fact that I'm not you know conveying information well but also when I don't understand information not to get mad at the person and not to be hostile towards the person but also to speak up in a positive manner, like “Hey, you know I really think this is interesting. I think this is a good topic, but I'm a little confused at some of the things that you were saying. This is where I got confused. Could you provide some references or a little bit more clarity about this point?” And that will help us in some of these difficult conversations.
Thank you guys for tuning in. I will be back next week; hope you have a great week. See you, bye. 👋🏾
References and Footnotes
- Exodus 2:5-8
- Exodus 2:9-10
- Disagree with something you would actually agree with. I wasn’t as clear on that as I could have been in the recording.
Other Episodes this Season