It’s simple. It’s a learning experience. One of my favorite methods of learning is interaction. I love the thinking out loud part of it, the formulation of a position and the defense of it in real time, or at least in cyber-time. I like to read, to listen to lectures, to write. But none more than interaction. Interacting with those who know more than you do is always better than the opposite, but not always possible.
I have learned more about what people believe and what I believe than I could have imagined. I have interacted with people from all theological stripes. I have learned to try to defend my beliefs, to try to see what is behind an argument, and to interact with substance rather than surface. Most of these things I have learned the hard way by continually beating my head against the cyber wall. And there is no doubt that some of it has been totally wasted time. There is no doubt that I have said some things, many things, that I wish I would have not said, or said differently. But the lessons have been invaluable. Here are a few:
- There is no idea too absurd for someone somewhere to believe.
- There is no standard of proof too low for someone somewhere to accept.
- No matter how explicitly you say something, someone will accuse you of meaning something else. No matter how clearly you state something, someone will accuse you of it anyway.
- No matter how careful you are with your words, someone will accuse you of saying something you did not say. When asked to show where you said it, they will simply ignore it, and refuse to retract the accusation.
- It will not be long until someone questions your intellectual integrity or insinuates that you do not have the educational qualifications to participate in a conversation with them.
- Someone will take it personally and it will turn ugly.
- Some people will refuse to answer simple questions.
- Some people are arrogant and will not be convinced no matter what.
- Some people are convinced they know what you believe better than you do. So they will tell you what you believe, and correct you all at the same time. When you tell them you believe something else, they will not listen.
- It is virtually impossible to communicate genuine attitudes online. Voice inflection, body language, eye contact does not play well.
- Enjoy the conversation and the learning process. One of the greatest benefits of this kind of interaction for me is that it gets me outside of my own mind. It allows me to see into the minds of others, to know what they think, and more importantly, how they think. As a pastor, I believe a key part of my ministry and particularly my preparation for preaching is understanding how the people that I minister to process information.
- Think about methods of argumentation and the logic being used to support or attack a position.
- Realize that some people are impossible. There are some people who simply will not be convinced no matter how clear a particular matter may be made. Those with vested interests will defend themselves at all costs.
- Do not take things personally. If your personal satisfaction depends on the affirmations of “dude_from_kansas,” you need to get a life.
- Control your time on it. If you cannot live without checking in on the conversation, your priorities are probably wrong.
- Ask questions about what people believe. Couch your assertions about their beliefs in “seems to,” “appears,” or the like in order to communicate an openness to correction.
- Try to be as clear and concise as possible.
- Try to avoid assigning motives to people.