Teaching the person, not the topic
12 comments | Posted: 23 June 06 in General, by Natalie Jost
Years ago, before I knew Christ and before I knew anything about web design or the internet (beyond AOL chat), I regularly ran into people who were more than willing to share their knowledge of these subjects with me. Christians were quick to share with me all about the “glory of the Lord” and “saving grace”. Techies gloated about servers, domains, and html code without ever really explaining what those things were. Usually I was left with mixed feelings of bewilderment and frustration with being patronized and preached to.
No matter what the venue, everyone has their own set of jargon, words they understand and outsiders don’t. Using jargon alienates people and not only does it confuse them even more, they feel stupid because, based on the fact that you know what those terms mean, they feel they ought to know too. That’s not a good place to be in, on either side of that kind of conversation, and yet I’ve found myself there a few times in talking to clients about design, and to family about my relationship with Christ. A client recently emailed me asking about my recommendations for a CMS and I hastily shot back a list of options with my explanations for them (including a shot at Typepad) without really explaining anything at all in a way he could take it all in. His reply set me straight and I apologized, and subsequently began to write this out.
Learning to change the way we talk about these things is important, and learning it is. Just as we trained on the vocabulary to learn the words to begin with, we have to now learn how and when to use them.
Forget your topic and think about the person
I’ve been reading about jargon, relationships, language, etc. and there are a lot of lists out there on what to say, how and when to say it, but there’s really just one thing that all of those lists say (we are trying to make things simpler, aren’t we).
Think about your audience right here, right now and forget for a minute the topic you’re on. Think about who that person (or group of people) is and what world they live in. Do they live in a techie world, a christian world? Or do they live in a secular, artistic, scientific, or literary world? Maybe they live in a sports and beer world. Whatever their lives consist of, they’ll have their own language in that world.
If you’re talking about web design, forget all the terminology you know and try to talk to the person in terms they can understand. If you’re a Christian talking to a non-believer, forget everything you hear in church and tell them what Jesus means to you plainly without the ‘secret’ language. In my web search about jargon I came across this game that is played in certain Christian circles. Phil Stone describes one of his favorite Christian parlor games:
“One of my favorite Bible study subjects is actually a simple game. The group is asked, ‘What does it mean to be a Christian?’ Each person, in turn, is free to answer the question. They must be complete, and they must state the answer for everyone else to hear.
One hitch makes the game interesting. No one is allowed to use any Christian jargon. Everyone in the group who is not speaking listens to the speaker and can ‘buzz’ the speaker if one word of Christian Jargon is used. After being buzzed, or if an incomplete answer is given the next person in the room gets to try. The “winner” is the first person who can completely state what it means to be a Christian and not be buzzed by someone else in the room.”
Imagine if we were to do this across the web! What if, for one day, no one could talk about or blog about web design or development without omitting jargon? I can dream, right? But think about what people could learn, how newbies could finally really “get” what we’re all talking about. In my own world I think about my husband who can barely work the right-click button (sorry honey) — how would I explain CSS to him?
Now imagine we took that to evangelism. I wonder, how many more could be saved by speaking to them about Jesus in terms they could understand? Without talking about God’s loving grace, talk about how God is like a father who loves his children and wants a relationship with them (relationship is becoming jargon too, though). Or instead of talking about punishment for sin and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, talk about the particular sins: lying, looking lustfully at another, not honoring God’s name, etc. and then talk about how Jesus died and actually came back to life (not about Him being crucifed and resurrected). Think about what it was like for you when you were just beginning to figure all of this out. Go back to those days before you knew God personally and before you new an
em from a
px and reach people with simpler terms (or analogies if you’re skilled in that area) without talking down to them. Talk to the person, just as they are.
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