I recently had a conversation with someone who had asked my opinion on homosexuality and the Christian faith. Before beginning my response I asked, “How much time do you have?” This question seemed to set the tone for the conversation – I wasn’t going to have a one word or one sentence explanation. A comprehensive response to a large and significant question such as this requires time to articulate. In the midst of the conversation I learned that his view on the nature of Scripture was markedly different than my own. That being the case, the very foundation for our entire ethical systems was different. We would disagree on many ethical issues, not only this one. Taking the time to talk through the entire issue at least showed him that our disagreement was on a much more fundamental level and helped him understand why I think the way I do.
In the previous story I thought it necessary to clarify at the outset of the conversation that this was going to take time to discuss because, quite frankly, in our society it is not the norm to hear someone out on an issue. We live in a world of instant communication, instant results, and instant satisfaction. We like our information like we like our food – NOW! Be honest. Have you ever been upset when the drive-through takes more than 2 minutes? How upset would you be if you had to go back to dial-up internet? (you’re welcome for that annoying dial-up sound that is in your head right now)
I’m reminded of a scene from the Simpsons. Marge asks Homer to fix a drawer in the side table, and Homer proceeds to grab his tools (fireworks!) to fix the table . Marge begins to rightly criticize his method of operation. To which Homer responds, “Do you want it done the right way or the fast way?” Marge answers with, “Well, like all Americans, the fast way.” In classic animated humor, Homer shoves the fireworks in and blows the drawer out of the table… and actually fixes it! As Marge rightly says, most Americans just want things done the fast way.
Now, this is not all bad. The massive surplus of information that is available to us is certainly a good thing. By nature, we must sift through the mass quantities of information that come at us on a daily basis, quickly passing over some and focusing in on others. What I am criticizing here is not the culture of information (that is here to stay) but our “mile wide and inch deep” way of thinking and processing that information. It seems to me that many people know a little bit about everything but fail to think critically and deeply about anything.
When we have a question we often accept the quickest most readily available answer not necessarily the wisest answer. If an argument is well articulated, covers all of its bases, accurately takes into account the opposing arguments and answers them, it will take longer than 30 seconds to read or hear. Typically these arguments land somewhere in the middle of an issue and don’t have a single word or phrase to grab on to and propagate. Nuanced, comprehensive thinking rarely allows for the quick, one phrase soundbite that everyone is looking for. In almost every case there is more than one side to the story that needs to be explained or more than one side to the argument that needs to be teased out, and it simply takes time to articulate.
If you’re still reading (I’m sure many didn’t make it this far) I hope to encourage you towards deeper, more nuanced and comprehensive thinking and argument. Perhaps nobody will listen. Perhaps you will get interrupted in the middle of your argument. Perhaps you will see the face of the person you are speaking with gloss over as they mentally move on to “more pertinent matters”. Perhaps you will have to take more time to read stories and information. But if you begin to do this well, it will lead to more accurate thinking, more appropriate action and a better persona that you display to those around you.