Isn’t it amazing how such a tiny stone can be so incredibly annoying when it gets into your shoe? As we go through life, an idea can be like this as well. Trying to defend an entire worldview in any conversation can be a lot like trying to pull off someone’s shoes when they don’t want you to. Yet, a simple and contrary idea to another’s worldview, given enough time, can be enough to make someone want to take off their now-uncomfortable worldview.
The idea of putting a stone in someone’s shoe is a relatively new concept for me and a profound message of the importance of simplicity. For most my life, I have been unknowingly obsessed with intellectual accountability, consumed by an insatiable desire to leave no potentially exaggerated or elusive concept unchecked. This distraction of wanting to keep people accountable kept me focused on the details, rather than focused on a clear single piece of truth that would be helpful to convey. I suspect that people are afraid to have worldview conversations because they feel an obligation to never look ignorant and to know all the answers. Well, what if studying the hard questions and having these conversations didn’t mean you had to?
Why less is more
More and more I am beginning to see the brilliance of using simple key points to induce growth, rather than thesis sized lectures with distinct precision. When you have a simple idea, it doesn’t take huge research to find a good number of credible sources or arguments to defend that position. A nice rule of thumb is if you feel you are spending a lot of time researching, your idea is probably not simple enough. With simple ideas in mind, you can play to your interest/ability, trying to defend only the ideas you have the capacity to research. As you become a better researcher, you can take on slightly more difficult ideas, learning to break those down into their simpler components as well.
The great thing about a simple point is that, if the idea is new for your friend, you are still likely to get the point across before the end of the conversation. This is what it is to leave a stone in their shoe. Often when an idea is new for someone, it can take a while before the coherency and implications of the idea really sink in. New ideas can quite often be difficult to take on board, particularly when it goes against something one is convinced of. Keeping points simple also gives you the time to really explore the perspectives and struggles of the other person. This not only helps them be open to hearing you, it helps to remove any misconceptions so they can really take on board the simple concept. Admittedly, there is still valuable discernment needed before you will find that perfect concept to share with your sceptical friend. Nevertheless, when you have it, it can work wonders!
But does it work in practice?
Recently I experienced the full benefits of taking a simple idea with a few strong sources onto my local sceptics’ Facebook page. It was in response to something I had seen championed on their page by some of their members I know personally. An idea which I had challenged in the past to no avail (due to ill preparation). While going through my Facebook feed of apologetic materials, I came across a short video of a Q&A where a student asked about defending the historical Jesus when others claim he never existed. The answer was quite concise and provided further reading materials from a reputable non-Christian historian. I had heard other quotes from reputable non-Christian historians in the past, so I knew they wouldn’t be too hard to find. So, I quickly hit up google for some quotes and sources (in case I needed them for later), then posed the question to their Facebook group along with the video I had watched.
I asked, “Is there actually people in this group that think that these low scholarly popular works claiming ‘Jesus didn’t exist’ really stand up to Bart Ehrman’s [non-Christian historian] critiques against those claiming the myth of Jesus?”
I have had many Facebook conversations in the past with sceptics. Usually, I will get a deeply rooted feeling of dread and anxiety every time someone replies to one of my comments. However, this online conversation was the most stress free and enjoyable engagement I have ever had on social media! My replies were the shortest they had ever been, required the least effort, and resulted in every sceptic who got involved having nothing to say to my simple questions (usually they are never short of something to say). It even seemed like people were learning and slightly shifting their positions as the conversations went on. I have never felt so confident in having left stones in people’s shoes in my history of online discussions.
The moral of the story
Conversations go much better when there is a single idea you want the other person to take away. All you need to do is present the key evidences/sources of one idea or fact that undermines their worldview, then question their sources and reasons for rejecting it. The teaching of leaving a stone in their shoe’ is not just something we can do when we fear not having the answers, I believe this teaching is highly effective in most life conflicts too. Perhaps you just feel the urge to flex that intellectual muscle of yours from time to time. However, if no one has asked you for the information, it is likely you are wasting your breath. Maybe try asking them a few questions to see why it is that they disagree or have a problem with you. Decide next time to have multiple progressive disagreements, rather than seemingly impossible large unresolved arguments. People need time when absorbing new ideas contrary to what they have heard before, and as loving communicators we want to give people the grace to come to terms with the truths that refine and rebuke each of us.