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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Communication 101

Evan during Construction of Ark

One of my favorite movies is Evan Almighty. Evan wants to change the world and is elected congressman. Surely, if God also wants to change the world and use Evan as an instrument of peace, the most direct way to do so would be to endow Evan with preternatural eloquence and persuasiveness. When he rose to speak in Congress, all the influential in Washington and all constituents at home would rise in agreement and flock in unison to change the world veritably establishing heaven on earth. As the movie develops, rather than irresistible eloquence God gives Evan a laborious, controversial, unpopular, and ridiculed task of manual labor.

Thus we see that God is a consummate realist. Understanding human nature like no other, he accepts the fact that people have their own views of what is good. These views often are not susceptible to verbal persuasion. Like many of the early Christians found who sought to change the world; conviction, faith, and even eloquence inspired by the Holy Spirit could not change the hearts of men and resulted instead in widespread Christian martyrdom.

While not a matter of righteousness, an incident occurred in my life while attending the university that resulted in one of the most valuable lessons I ever learned. I was taking a course in public administration policy. I attended all the lectures and read all assigned readings. The time came for the first test – an essay test. The questions were in areas for which I was fully prepared. I wrote my answers with what I felt was skill, even eloquence. I left the exam assured that I had done well and would earn a “B”, maybe an “A”. The next class the professor handed out the graded papers. My paper was marked “D”. I at once knew what I had to do. I had to drop the class. For whatever reason, the professor and I could never be on the same page. We were, quite simply, in different mental universes. I dropped the class having learned an important lesson – all my conviction, all my preparation, all my certitude and confidence, all my effort – and yes, all my sense of rightness - can mean absolutely nothing to others – even be actively criticized and roundly rejected.

Defeat, in this sense, is a common experience arising from the diverse nature of man's perception. It cannot be helped. We can get angry and retaliatory or we can acknowledge the situation and allow each a right to disagree. On these occasions it is always helpful to call to mind what it would look like if the world were in lock-step agreement about all matters great and small. While concord is viewed positively and earnestly to be desired, the specter of repression is not. Behavior, while in the short-run imposable by force, is better served in the long run when it arises from universal concord founded upon mutual perception of the good—an end to be fully realized in the New Jerusalem. Evan was not in the New Jerusalem, he was in Washington. Thus, magically produced tranquility took a back seat to hard labor and strife.

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