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Winter Edition
Volume 96, Number 4

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How to talk about tough topics

What role does language or differing definitions play in discussing tough topics?

Carla Gross
Carla Gross
Carla: Language seems to be a very critical component of how Christians dialogue with one another, in particular, because different words have different meanings, depending on your faith tradition backgrounds; people tend to see language through their own personal lens of how they were brought up, what kind of tradition or heritage that they experienced as a Christian.

Brian: American Protestantism has become a faith of particular languages or particular phrases: “Have you accepted Jesus into your heart?” or certain buzzwords. Our branches of Christianity are very language bound, and it’s become the marker. A lot of people want to go to the mat over those particular words.

The impreciseness with which we use language can blur tough topics. For example, if someone says “all alumni feel this way” that statement can exaggerate perspectives on a topic.

How does modern technology facilitate or hinder the discussion of these kinds of topics?

Carla: I have found that technology can be your best ally or your worst enemy when you’re trying to communicate about tough issues. The age of the Internet has pro-vided a means for misinformation and rumors to circulate rapidly to a very large number of people. On the other hand, a strategic proactive use of the College’s own website and e-mail communication has helped Messiah College disseminate accurate information quickly.

Ed Arke
Ed Arke
Ed: The Internet particularly has damaged, in some respects, our ability to hold interpersonal communication, because we lose the benefits of face-to-face contact, the emotion of a message, the nonverbal language. And because it’s so quick, we also sacrifice, in many cases, the ability to process information, because we immediately hit “reply” and fire back an e-mail, and it snowballs into something that you can’t pull back.

Randy: Civility and decency can become casualties because it’s just so easy to loft this grenade of caustic commentary from behind your firewall and throw it out there, and then it explodes.

Winston: We can perhaps begin the process by using e-mail, but not end there. E-mail can be a good starting point because it’s not as confrontational and can be less intimidating.

Kris: I suggest to students that when broaching tough topics they send a preliminary e-mail with a list of things they’d like to discuss, questions, or concerns. This gives the other person time to think about the issues and form a response, rather than a reaction. That’s a good way to start the process.

Randy: It also may be easier for introverted students who are uncomfortable speaking in class to use technology and be able to reflect on their thoughts without needing to give an immediate response.

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