It might be tempting to keep quiet about what you really believe or hide behind a book that gives your view rather than talking about it yourself; especially if you are afraid if you share ideas they might be discarded or even trampled on.
But don’t we each have some sort of responsibility for freely offering a word of wisdom freely received?
I would argue that it’s only when we share ideas and beliefs that we can build deeper relationship. But how many of us fail to do this, preferring to say the comfortable thing, and conform to what we assume is expected? Conversations that touch on important issues really give satisfaction; one soul has touched another.
“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.” (Rollo May)
Perhaps you are reticent to share ideas about your hopes, values and convictions. Do you avoid any honest talk about politics and religion, or quickly pass over difficult subjects like the meaning of death or human suffering, or your personal aims in life. Is this because you have little to say or are unhappy about being your real self?
“There are some people who have the quality of richness and joy in them and they communicate it to everything they touch. It is first of all a physical quality; then it is a quality of the spirit.” (Tom Wolfe)
Here are some suggestions about how to share ideas.
1. Be clear about what you would want to say if you had the chance. One possible reason why you might sometimes gloss over matters, is you haven’t thought through your ideas; have not understood what is important to you about your beliefs; or are not yet clear about what ideas you want to share.
“First learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak.” (Epictetus)
2. Find an appropriate person to speak with. You cannot expect to share ideas about the local football team with someone who is bored by sport. Nor can you expect to talk about your spiritual beliefs with someone who is disinterested in the deeper aspects of life.
3. Even then you cannot just launch into a topic out of the blue. Only by listening carefully, will you be in a position to show the relevance of what you want to say to the other person, beginning where they are at. This means being sensitive and aware of the other person’s feelings.
“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others” (Tony Robbins)
4. I would advise not tackling a passionately held attitude head on. It will get you nowhere. Only by listening can you learn what switches someone off or where to tread carefully. One would walk warily around certain topics where the other person has strong feelings. Raising a certain topic like gay marriage, re-incarnation, vegetarianism, human suffering may feel like walking over broken eggs.
Instead try to share ideas by testifying to our own experiences and thoughts and their relevance to the person’s situation and practical issues.
5. Share ideas by offering your views for consideration rather than telling someone in an authoritative way what to think. This means asserting your thoughts without dominating; listening to the other person’s attitude even when they don’t oppose you.
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” (Peter Drucker)
6. Wait for the right time to mention what you have in mind; looking for opportunities to steer the conversation towards the topic that interests you
7. Share ideas by keeping to the point.
“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” (Hans Hofmann)
8. Share ideas by using words in common parlance avoiding jargon or terminology with socially unacceptable connotations. When talking with someone you don’t know too well from a different background it is important to check out any misunderstanding of words with a specialised meaning that do crop up.
When it comes to deeper ideas, any language can be inadequate especially when you are trying to express the inexpressible. For example if you want to share your spiritual beliefs then be wary about the way the word ‘God’ is used. Some people have rightly rejected a distorted image of God. Nevertheless they may still have a feeling that there is an underlying divine source of what is good and true in life.
10. Only suggest an idea if it might lead to something useful for the other person. There is a chance that what you want to say is not needed by a particular individual.
11. Don’t assume listeners will agree that what is said is self-evident. Nothing can be more annoying than for someone to share ideas by telling us what to think as if they must be right. It sounds arrogant and dogmatic.
Better to say “This is my opinion; here is my experience and evidence; look for yourself and decide.”
12. Don’t voice your opinion as a way of winning an argument and getting the better of someone. People use their inner freedom to search for meaningful notions because they love what makes sense. We should encourage such people to exercise their freedom to rationally weigh up our beliefs. We cannot assume everyone we speak with is able to intuitively perceive the truth of what we say. After all we may be wrong.
13. Welcome questioning of what you say.
“A powerful idea communicates some of its strength to him who challenges it.” (Marcel Proust)
Look upon a conversation as a two way process. You can learn from the other person and hopefully they can learn from you.
Spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg wrote that we never achieve truth as it is in itself, but that all of our insights are only approximations to genuine truth, mere appearances of what is true adapted to human understanding. In communicating with people we need to accommodate our message to where each is coming from in terms of the appearances and illusions they have. And to share ideas with them we need to listen to what they have to say in terms of our own misapprehensions.
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems