The Choir’s the Only Audience Worth Preaching To

All learning is self-motivated.  No one has ever successfully crammed a belief down the throat of another.  Enough brow-beating can coerce someone into changing their actions, but it cannot change their heart.  Even absent heavy-handed tactics, telling someone they are wrong will never induce them to alter their worldview unless they are already seeking.

Engaging those without some level of curiosity in your ideas is a waste, unless you enjoy it for its own sake.  But that’s the really peculiar thing; no one does.  When people get frustrated by discussion, it’s not because their open-minded interlocutor is asking too many good questions and seeing too much merit in the other side.  It’s because the hidebound counterpart can’t even work from the same basic assumptions, and resorts to illogical arguments or ad hominem.  That’s not because the wrong words are being used, it’s because the wrong person is being talked to.

A lot of people claim to love debate as a format for discovering what is true.  It supposed to be more balanced and less dogmatic than a presentation on just one side of an issue.  It seems just the opposite in practice.  Never have I seen a debate where a debater says, “I’ve really learned a lot and changed my position!”  Of course, it’s the audience who are supposed to learn, but that too is a rarity.  People watch debates for the spectacle, and to cheer when their side scores a rhetorical point.  There is nothing wrong with this in itself, but if a person were genuinely uninformed and wanted to learn about an issue, a debate would be the a poor way to do so, as the emphasis is on posturing and outwitting, not enlightening.  When defenses are up, nothing gets in.

If your goal is to be understood, or to help others see how a change in mindset could better their life and the lives of others, the choir – those who have self-selected into the space where your ideas are discussed – are the best audience to preach to.  If you value your own happiness, abstaining from street corner sermons to uninterested or hostile passersby is a must.  There are many derogatory sayings about talking to people with similar ideas, but it should be the opposite.  All the grumpy, hateful, fruitless and frustrating conversations happen when people walk away from the “echo chamber” and shout into ears that don’t care to hear.

Don’t waste your breath on people who have not signaled somehow that they are interested in your ideas.  You’ll live a happier life, and reap the immense rewards or real, back and forth, give and take conversation that builds the mind of truth seekers on both sides.  You learn to dance where you can freely try, in a studio with other dancers, not at the Bomont chapel.