Barriers to Conversation
As Christians we are expected to engage people in conversation. God has designed us to dwell in community just as he dwells in community (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). From the beginning God said it was not good for man to be alone. God gave us the institution of marriage and created families. Families are small communities designed for intimate relationship, but God expects us to go beyond this. He created the church, a large community of people, who have been brought together by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The church is a large family. It is important that we develop relationships within the church. These relationships will help to provide spiritual, emotional, and sometimes physical support when needed. We have our biological and spiritual family for us to cultivate relationships, but God expects us to again go beyond this. We have an obligation to our neighbor who is neither a part of our biological family or the church. We must help our neighbor who is in need, which often involves getting to know them. Spiritual and emotional support are just as important, if not more, than physical support. We must develop relationships with our neighbors.
All of these relationships involve conversation. You can have a conversation without developing a personal relationship, but you cannot have a personal relationship without having meaningful conversation. In many ways conversation has broken down in our culture. We put up walls or make judgments that serve as barriers to conversation. Conversations are necessary for healthy communities. As Christians we must work on having meaningful conversations with our family members, fellow Christians, and neighbors. We must be aware of certain barriers to conversation that we may or may not be participating in. Here are a few common barriers to conversation.
Failure to Listen – If a person is not listening, then he or she is not having a conversation. If our goal is to simply express our viewpoints and we fail to consider what the other person is saying, then neither person has benefited from what took place. When we listen and engage the thoughts of the other person we make a connection. A conversation involves mutual sharing. In conversation both parties speak and listen. In a meaningful conversation a person should focus more on the words of the other person, rather than the words he or she is about to speak. We should carefully consider our own words, but only after we have listened to the words of the other person.
Demonizing Others – One of the greatest barriers to conversation is when a person demonizes others. We live in a culture that feels the need to create or find bad guys. This is something we have been taught from a small age. We find it in our movies, books, TV shows, etc. There are evil people in the world, but the behavior of constantly demonizing others is harmful. If we are always making ourselves out to be the good guy and demonizing other people in our life, then we are unlikely to have many meaningful conversations. We must see all people as individuals created in the image of God.
Failure to Understand – Some conversations never happen because a person has already made up their minds about the other side. People often stereotype an entire group because of their own prejudices, or because of the behavior of a small minority within a certain group. For example: “All Muslims are terrorists.” “All liberals are immoral.” “All conservatives are uncaring.” “All southerners are ignorant.” “All northerners are snobs.” These stereotypes and many others are automatic barriers to conversation. We must strive to get to know and understand the person we are engaging in conversation. Do not assume to know everything about them. Ask questions. Do not allow a preconceived idea to stand between you and another human being.
Unwillingness to Learn – Just because a person fails to agree with you on all points is no reason to end a conversation. We can learn from people we disagree with. If we only have conversations with people we agree with, then we are living a very sheltered life. The Pharisees tended to surround themselves with people they agreed with, but Jesus surrounded himself with all kinds of different people. We should not be afraid to converse with others whom we may disagree with. We do not have to accept everything they say, but we should strive to learning something from them.
Lack of Initiative – A conversation will not happen if we fail to pick up the phone, send an e-mail, or offer an invitation. We must assume that conversations begin with us. Do not wait on someone else to begin a conversation. We must take the first step in inviting others to converse with us. One conversation could lead to a lifelong friendship, a marriage, or a changed life. If we fail to start the conversation, then we will never take part in the blessings that might follow.