Over the past three years, I have taught a number of sections of a course called “Interpersonal Communication” at Warner Pacific College. A little over a year ago, when I realized that this was shaping up to be a pretty regular teaching assignment for me, I figured that I might as well gain more proficiency at it, so I opted to take a graduate level course through my seminary called “Interpersonal Communication & Conflict Management.” And I did learn quite a bit.
But I have not taught that course for several months now, and have not thought too much about the subject. Recently, however, I have been reminded again of the complicated affair of interpersonal communication. How easily we misunderstand one another! How difficult it can be really to achieve a meeting of minds!
Over the course of my adult life, I have somehow managed to acquire a mindset of suspicion toward my own thought. I no longer have to try to think this way; it just sort of happens. I was talking with a friend the other day, and explained it this way: In any dialogue with another person wherein there is some level of disagreement or notable difference in view, I begin with the basic assumption that I am wrong—in at least some measure.
If you and I are engaged in an exchange of ideas and do not agree, I have the under-girding assumption that I am somewhere between 5 and 95% wrong on the subject. And one of the most important goals I have in the discussion is to identify the measure and nature of my error.
I come from a family of robust debaters. Wrangling around in opinionation and argument is something that is done for sport. While I do not wish my upbringing had been otherwise (indeed, I have been well-served by this background), I do know that it has its downsides.
For all our animated and entertaining ways, Stewarts can easily come off as blustering blowhards. In fact, I must admit that, in many ways, it is not a mere perception; it’s who we really are.
In the spring of 2007, I found myself in the place of losing my job at a Christian school where my family and I had invested our lives for six years. It was terribly painful, not only for us, but for a whole school community who loved and supported us. One very uncomfortable facet about that whole experience that I have had to face is the truth that I had earned much of the trouble that came my way through my overbearing approach to interpersonal relating and communicating.
It is difficult to face such things in ourselves. Sometimes, even to glance at the reality and give ourselves just flash of a moment to see the unpleasant truth about us can feel as though it is threatening to undo us. To admit that the fault is not really on the other side of the table, but rather sitting right here in my chair can be overwhelmingly difficult.
These, I think, can be momentous occasions. We are faced with the choice of either taking an honest look at ourselves or rejecting such a look, of either self-effacing or self-protection.
If we opt for the former, we will find that there is hope for us. The door is open for God to begin an amazing work in us. Aslan can begin to claw away our dragon skins (see The Voyage of the Dawtreader).
But if we take the other route, we slam the door shut and hide behind it. And sadly, we become more like Uncle Andrew, who so wanted to disbelieve that a lion was speaking, that he determined only to hear growls and roars until, at last, that really was all he could hear (see The Magician’s Nephew).
It is no fun when we first begin to humble ourselves. In fact, it can be rather excruciating. But we must think of the alternative: self-delusion. For me, this is more frightening than anything else. So I choose to be humiliated, not because I have the courage to go through the process, but because I am too afraid to go the other way.
I have seen how people can guard their opinions, their views of things, so cleverly and with such lockjaw ferocity that they are unable even to consider whether they might be wrong. It seems as though it really might kill them to admit being wrong. The psychological toll is simply not one that they can bear to pay.
And so the people in their lives either learn how to tiptoe around them and their ways. “You know how Herman is,” they say to themselves and each other, “there’s just no convincing him. It’s best just to let him spout his opinion and move on.” How sad.
Of course, that describes only the people who cannot really get away. Those who can retreat from a depth relationship with an overbearing person, often do.
I know that there has been too much of this in my life. That is, I have too often been one whose way among people is that of the intensely forceful personality.
When I think back to the season in which my time at that school was coming to an end, I can think of numerous times when some poor soul or other made the mistake of asking me a question or trying to love me by saying a kind word of understanding—and then they would end up having to endure the electrically intense cloud of my opinion. After a while, I could see in their eyes that they were thinking, “Gee, KC, I just wanted to let you know that I’m thinking of you and your family in this hard time. I wasn’t really asking to have you bear down on me with the gravity of the injustice of it all.” Thinking about this now, I can almost blush with retrospective embarrassment.
It was my Dad’s way. It is the way of many people in my family. It has often been mine. And I have to admit that, all too often, it still is my way: namely, to relate to and communicate with people in a way where the force of my personality and opinion threatens to lay claim to their very own personhood.
I have been asking the Lord to grow me in this area for the last several years. And if I dare, I think I can say that He has… a little bit, anyway. I thank Him for the gift of seeing it.
There is much more to say here, of course, but this should be enough for now. To all who engage with me in conversations, dialogues, discussions, arguments, and so forth, God bless you! Thank you for caring enough to do it and for helping me to learn things that go far beyond the specific subject matter. May the God of peace guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus!