Thinking Out Loud

March 13, 2017

For the Smart People in the Room

Filed under: Christianity, relationships — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:21 am

You’re considered a smart person. You

  • are a quick study
  • have an encyclopedic knowledge on a variety of subjects
  • know how to think and articulate things logically
  • rarely find yourself at a loss for words

So many times you find yourself in conversations with people who may not share your gifts and understanding of different things. Here’s what I want to share with you today:

Your gifts and knowledge are only as good as your ability to present them in ways that the common person can understand them

and

your only barometer of how well you are getting through is to make high levels of eye contact with the listener and look for signs of recognition.

If you’re getting through, you can then move on to the next point, or know you can continue but communicating at a higher level. If you’re not, don’t be afraid to say,

  • “Are you with me?”
  • “Are you tracking with that?”
  • “Have I lost you?”
  • “That’s not too confusing, is it?”

But if that’s the axiom, here’s the corollary: Sometimes you find yourself in conversation with someone who

  • is simply better educated
  • has a much more specialized knowledge of or training in the subject at hand
  • has progressed to an aspect of the topic that is above your pay grade
  • processes things more quickly than you and therefore talks faster

Certainly at times like that humility sets in. And smart people need that to take place in their lives from time to time.1 In those situations:

A truly smart person won’t continue the conversation beyond the point where they’ve lost the plot

and

it’s okay to ask the person to backtrack so you can regroup your forces and continue.

Faking it — pretending you understand — is a terrible choice. In those moments don’t be afraid to say,

  • “Can we go back to the previous point so I can see how we just got to where we are?”
  • “What’s the ‘…for Dummies‘ version of how you would say that?”
  • “What is the 25-words-or-less take-away of what you’re saying?”
  • “I’m hearing you but I’m missing the nuances of that particular argument/distinction.”

Rarely if ever are our interactions a conversation of equals.2 Wisdom will dictate that you do all that is in your power to level the playing field as much as possible.


1 A really smart person won’t begin a sentence with “And;” but that’s another discussion.
2 Sometimes you have to ask yourself why you’re in the conversation to begin with. Jesus talked about casting pearls before swine. Are you simply trying to look intelligent to someone, or feign intelligence to someone else? Talking over someone’s head, or allowing someone to talk over yours for an extended period is just a waste of time. Wisdom lies in knowing when to proceed and when to bail and cut your losses.

May 16, 2016

“I heard you perfectly, now tell me what you said.”

Writing Literacy CommunicationIn an age when we are bombarded with voices and information, it’s easy to miss the essential core of what someone is trying to say. I often find myself going back over sentences, paragraphs and pages to make sure I get the gist of what the writer intended, and am currently re-reading a book I recently finished because I want to make certain I’ve internalized the writer’s message.

There are probably a number of reasons this becomes necessary, such as:

Overly Idiomatic

Some writers clearly overdo it when it comes to use of cultural or idiomatic expressions. One friend of mine, who worked with a “Biker Church” loved the cutting edge Bible translations but not The Message which he felt overused American speech patterns. I don’t agree, but it’s a reminder to guard the temptation to speak in nothing but clichés.

Over Concision

It was Noam Chomsky who introduced me to the idea of concision. I’ve taught it as, “You’re selling your car through a media which is charging you $1 per word. How do you describe your vehicle persuasively, but keep the cost down?” I believe that texting or Twitter can force us into communication which is simply too abrupt. A few more words or sentences would better flesh out the story or argument. Many times I will go back through something posted here and tighten it up, but alas, as I’m not paid to do this, much that you read here is first draft.

Overly Prosaic

The opposite of the above problem is writing which overflows with flowery language and description. Some people are simply too verbose. (Notice that I kept this section short!)

Overly Cute

This becomes an issue in a world where people are accustomed to cutesy headlines and teasers. It leads to a “style over substance” situation where people end up impressed with your wit, but have no idea as to your intention. This type of writing or speech often distracts or misleads.

Poorly Structured

Living as we do in a bullet-point world, people want to follow your train of thought from (a) to (b) to (c) to the conclusion. Unfortunately, prose doesn’t offer us the possibilities seen in, for example, a flow chart, unless we’re prepared to do a lot of backtracking. In my own writing, I am very aware of overuse of “however…” or “On the other hand…” and sometimes it is unavoidable.

Too Culturally Specific

In a fragmented culture we don’t all see the same movies or listen to the same songs. If you referencing a film, it may be necessary to take a paragraph to set up the plot rather than assume that the storyline is part of a common culture.

Lack of Annotation

Especially in written works, some background or sourcing needs to be provided in footnotes or appendices, where it goes beyond the flow of the article to do it in the type of set-up paragraph noted above. This way the reader who is lost can get back on track.

Loss of Focus

Going back to our introduction, and my re-reading of a recently completed book, some of the responsibility has to rest on the listener or the reader. It’s possible that my own first exposure to what you wrote or said was ruined by my own lack of focus or ADD tendencies. In conversation, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “Do you mind repeating that?”

Topical Ignorance

Again, this is reader/hearer problem. It’s possible I’ve waded into a subject with which I lack sufficient background knowledge, or a breaking news story or trend of which I was completely unaware. No amount of re-reading or asking you to repeat will cover my need to take three steps back (yes, an idiom) and do the necessary research in order to catch up.

Previous Bias

If I truly don’t like the speaker or author, it’s easy for me to be dismissive of the source. If you don’t believe the book has anything to say, you might find yourself skimming its pages instead of attempting to properly digest the contents.

Generational Shifts

People communicate differently from generation to generation. As you get older, you often need to brush up on the communication styles of, for example, Millennials, or you might miss the full impact of what’s being said. Included in this is shift of meaning of individual words. A few years ago, if your son said he “had a wicked time at youth group;” this probably meant it was great, not evil. You would need to know the word usage in advance. 

Terminology Differences

This problem arises frequently in the type of topical writing we do here and occurs when people of different faiths use the same term, but are using it entirely differently. It’s hard to not mention the example of Mormonism, where discussions often break down because people don’t stop to define their terms as used in their church. It’s a more serious problem than the generational changes of the previous section.

Generally, communication isn’t complete until the reader has fully understood. The adage that “If the learner hasn’t learned the teacher hasn’t taught” may oversimplify the situation, but I believe it’s applicable more times than it isn’t.

December 28, 2011

How to Show Respect

Filed under: character — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:58 am

Japanese Etiquitte involves different levels of bowing reflecting degrees of respect

In traditional Japanese society it is customary to bow.  While a bow can indicate remorse, it usually indicates humility or even deference to the other person.

In traditional Chinese culture, in addition to bowing, there is a language nuance that has no equivalent in Western society, wherein the first person will speak in humble, even (what we would call) self-depreciating language and then say something that shows esteem for the other person.  The closest we get in English is the phrase, “Welcome to my humble abode,” which, if used when you live in a twenty-room mansion, emphasizes that you feel honored (perhaps even unworthy) to have said guest in your home.  In Chinese society, the remark would then be reciprocated, not unlike the situation where two people defer to each other in trying to go through a narrow door:  “You go first.” “No, you go first.” “Please, I insist, you go first.”   Etcetera.

So what is the correct thing to do in social situations that we in North America, Australia, New Zealand and Western Europe find ourselves?  That’s easy, showing respect today involves turning off your cell (mobile) phones and other similar devices.  Let me ask you this:  How many of you had to sit through a Christmas family gathering where people were texting, updating status, checking messages and responding to emails?  All day long?  In the middle of dinner?

Or better yet, how many of you were guilty of said social faux pas?  Nothing says, ‘You’re not important and the thing you’re doing or speaking about is not important,’ like ignoring the present reality in which you find yourself and instead wanting to connect with the outside world.  The people who aren’t there.  The part of your world which you find more interesting than the present company.

Instead we should bow.  And as we bow, we should reach into the pocket of the other person and switch their devices off.  While they do the same to us.

November 27, 2010

Self Editing: Careful Monitoring of What You Say

My oldest son made an interesting comment about a speaker we heard recently:  “I appreciated what she had to say, but she doesn’t self-edit.”   Self-editing involves that little 2.3 milliseconds between what your brain is thinking, and the actual movement of your lips.   It’s a brief allowance in time for you to decide what you’re about to say is not really in your best interests.   The wisdom to make this decision might arise from maybe reading a little book called Proverbs.

It happens all the time…

  • the husband who knows how to answer when his wife asks, “Does this make me look fat?”
  • the car dealer who is careful not to let slip that the $11,000 used car only fetched its previous owner $2,000 as a trade-in
  • the gift recipient who doesn’t want to admit that she already has two George Foreman grills; neither one out of the box
  • the student who doesn’t want to tell her math teacher that he has bits of his lunch on his sport jacket

…and other situations of that ilk.

What I’ve found is that sometimes we are more careful to avoid potentially awkward situations than we to avoid ones that are more blatantly hurtful.  In other words, we’re more likely to censor ourselves, or if you prefer the term, self-edit, for reasons other than those that would cause direct pain.

Maybe we think the amended adage “Sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt you” is true.   But neither it nor its original version comes close to the truth.   Names do hurt, and they cause damage that causes people to shut down socially, or even end up in counseling for years following the hurt.


I am always amazed that otherwise seemingly intelligent people are capable of self-editing in so many different business, educational and social situations, but lack the grace to stop their mouths in situations where they are clearly bringing hurt to someone else.

Why do they do this?

There are a number of reasons, but one of them might be that they believe that certain people are impervious to pain and injury.

And one of the groups they believe fit this category is pastors, clergy,  and people generally in ministry.   We believe they are tough enough to take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain, our words are like a cloud, bring a lot of rain.  (Wow! I should copyright that line.)   We believe that something in their seminary training gave them rhinoceros hides — skin so thick that nothing can injure them.   We believe that as God’s representatives on earth they will just smile and nod and continue to say, “God bless you.”

Well it ain’t so.

Pastors and ministry workers are people, too.   They have their own spiritual life which can be devastated by insensitive remarks.   They have their own spiritual formation happening.   If anything, their profession leaves them more vulnerable to hurt.

And they cry.

Ministry profile has its price; and some of that is increased sensitivity to careless remarks or outright criticism.   Some pastors would gladly shed the large round target that is apparently painted on all their vestments.

But for all of us, in every situation, and every type of interaction, it begins with a heightened self-editing mechanism that is set to monitor potential hurt.

Several months ago, someone in ministry I know was dealt an unexpected blow that was actually quite calculated on the part of the perpetrator, who was out to prove a point, and out to accomplish an objective, but never thought to monitor for potential long-term damage. In carrying out their crusade, the perpetrator had a billion times more than the normal 2.3 milliseconds, but never bothered to self-edit themselves.

The recipient of their words is still hurting.

Related post on this blog:  Words Matter.

Another related post: Easy To Be Hard.

October 6, 2010

Wednesday Link List

Here are some highlights from my blog travels in the past week:

  • While you’re link hopping  here, you can stream audio from CCM Gold Radio – Christian music from the ’60s thru the ’80s; though it’s a bit like tightrope walking without a net, because they don’t tell you what you’re hearing, and there are many obscure songs.   Great for Christian music trivia, however; I’m just not sure how many songs actually support the claim to include the ’60s.   I have a 3,000-plus library of Christian music on vinyl, and only a small handful are pre 1970.
  • Then again, you’re going to have to switch media for this one:   Many of you know Pete Wilson from his blog and his new book, Plan B.   But how many of you have been to Cross Point to check out a Pete Wilson sermon?   I thoroughly enjoyed this experience on the weekend.  Go to the page for Pete’s new Empty Promises series, and click on week one, the introductory message.   I promise you 30 solid minutes of distraction-free preaching.
  • Tullian Tchividjian has been busy on Twitter compiling short statements expressing various aspects of the gospel.  Blogger Barry Simmons assembles a couple of lists at his blog The Journeyman’s Files both here and here.   Sample sentence: “When we transfer trust from ourselves to Christ, we experience the abundant freedoms that come from not having to measure up.”
  • Trevin Wax plays transcription stenographer to a recent address by Al Mohler as to how he came to his present position on women in pastoral ministry.   Check out some highlights.
  • What life goals are you working on?  Things you’re trying to cultivate in your life?   Ever feel lost or orphaned?   Kathy Escobar has three words for you.
  • Here’s another take on the new CEB (Common English Bible) translation, which the writer calls a “Good News Glut.”   We learn now that five publishers are involved, and many are motivated by providing an alternative for the NRSV crowd.
  • Just When You Thought You’d Heard Everything Department:  Don’t know if this conversion would actually ‘stick,’ but Delaware Republican Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell says she became a Christian because of her love of Italian food, primarily meatballs.
  • This one’s been in my files for awhile… Author Max Lucado considers things spiritual and things sci-fi and everything in between in a consideration of what the next life might be like.
  • Bene Diction posted this link a few days back to an article by Regent College professor John Stackhouse on the appropriateness of criticizing other Christians in a public forum.   Should we shoot our own?
  • Related?   Here’s a comment from a reader at CT’s article on Rick Warren’s video appearance at the Desiring God conference, and John Piper’s negative attitude toward Warren in particular:  “All of us, including the most intellectual, will be taking a Theology 101 course in heaven…”
  • Author Wayne Jacobsen got an insider’s look at the making of the now-released movie adaptation of Karen Kingsbury’s book Like Dandelion Dust.
  • New music artist of the week is two-time ASCAP award winner John DeGrazio.  Check out his 2010 album Stronghold at his webpage.
  • Michael Belote at Reboot Christianity has a great word picture of a typical gathering in the first century church, but to get there, link here first for a quick eight-question quiz.
  • No actual link on this one, but I’m currently reading Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis … out loud! Working away one chapter a night, and with my youngest (who’s now 16) listening, I figure many of the chapters started out as radio broadcasts anyway, so why not cover the book in its original form.   It also slows me down to catch all the nuances of Lewis’ masterful apologetics.
  • At least one Target store would rather slash women’s clothing to pieces than donate it to an orphanage in southeast Asia.   Why?   They’re afraid someone else might get the product and try to return it for refund.
  • It remains one of my all time favorite cartoons; so I’m thankful to a reader who sent a much better rendering of it than the one I posted… I think you already know the cartoonist’s name, right?

  • And here’s an edgy one appearing September 14th from Tom Pappalardo at The Optimist written in response to the migration of Roman Catholics out of New England, which leaves the northeast with a reputation once exclusively belonging to the northwest:

April 6, 2010

What Preoccupies You Most?

Yes, the title of this blog post is a tautology.   Get over it.

…A long time ago in a galaxy far away I was asked on a regular basis to do the Sunday morning sermon in a variety of churches.   One of these was the kind of church where they like to have the congregation follow along with a fill-in-the-blanks outline page.

While going through a drawer a few weeks ago I discovered a stack of outline blanks for one particular sermon, and decided to see if I could guess what the missing words were.

It wasn’t rocket science.   But there at the end of the outline was my message conclusion; it said “Three Questions.”

  1. .
  2. .
  3. .

So what were those questions?   (I just reminded myself of the time that George Carlin was on The Tonight Show talking about his new comedy album, The Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television, and Carson asked him, “So George, what are those words?”)

So what were those questions?  (Okay, that time I reminded myself of Alec Baldwin’s character in 30 Rock, Jack Donaghy, who watches a video of himself at age 12 getting all excited opening a birthday present, but you can’t actually see the gift itself, and it drives him nuts trying to remember or figure out what it was.)

So what were those questions?

I started to think back to a different stage in my spiritual pilgrimage and the things that would have been uppermost in my mind at that time.   What are the three questions I would have my audience of that day — or my blog readers today — ask themselves?

  1. What’s the first thing you think about when you get up in the morning? — I got this from Pat Robertson’s original autobiography, Shout it from the Housetops. He was a local church pastor, but one of his church board members was trying to make the point that Robertson was more obsessed with starting a Christian television network than he was with leading a church congregation.   (He jokingly added, “The first thing I think about is wishing you [the church board member] would get saved…”)    Still, regardless of what you think of Pat Robertson — and I won’t post comments on that subject — it’s still a good question to address.
  2. What do you talk about when it’s your chance to control the conversation? — I owe a debt to a Christian & Missionary Alliance young adults pastor for this one, but I can’t remember if it was Mike Wilkins or Bill McAlpine.   Analyze yourself and others to see to what people turn their attention when the conversation reaches a “redirect” point.   “Out of the abundance of the heart… ”  “Whatever is in your heart determines what you say…”  (NLT version of Matthew 12:34) “It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words.”  (Same vs., The Message)
  3. What do you want your life to be remembered for? — No HT on this one, I had just written a song a year earlier with the same theme.  (It had seven — count ’em, seven verses!  You think these blog posts are long?)    Everyone of us is writing a story, leaving a legacy.   If you could get a few paragraphs in Wikipedia after you’re gone, how would those sentences read?

I think it’s good stuff to consider.

February 1, 2010

The Dream Flight Is Back

? Of the Week:

airline-seatsYou’re on a four-hour flight, up for conversation and you think the person in the next seat is also. You turn and find yourself sitting next to ________________!

What person in the “Christian world” would you most like to find yourself sitting next to for that flight? You can name up to three

  1. .
  2. .
  3. .

or just name one. But let us know some reasons, and if we don’t know this person, explain who they are.

And yes, I know it would be more productive if you were sitting next to a stranger who simply needed to hear about Jesus from you, but we’ll take that as a given, okay?

Two weeks ago in the link list we mentioned Erwin McManus’ stage production, Casket.   This week, a 30-second commercial by him in the Doritos “Crash the Superbowl” contest — also called Casket — is one of six finalists.   You can watch all six this week only at this link.   Having watched all six, I’d say it has a really good chance of airing.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.