Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Rhetorical Gray

For some of us, it's very easy to be black-and-white about things. Binary is our native language.

The classic example of this is: You're either pregnant or you're not.

The most important example of this is eternal salvation. Are you saved?

Not everyone, though, sees the world in such stark contrasts. There is often room for shades of gray to be discerned. To use the extreme example, one could ask, "How is your pregnancy going?"

There's one rhetorical tool I've found that helps tremendously in making the leap from black-and-white thinking to considering shades of gray.

I call it, “Putting things on a spectrum.” That is, take the what would be the two black and white extremes and consider them opposite ends of the spectrum. Then ask where things fall between those two options.

Of course, it wouldn't make any sense to ask, “Where are you in the spectrum between pregnant and not pregnant?” However you could ask, “Where is your pregnancy on the spectrum between difficult and easier?” (Note: Never assume a woman is pregnant! It's much better to ignore the question altogether than to err on assuming someone is pregnant when they're not.)

The “spectrum” doesn't always have to be expressly stated, but even so it's a useful tool for framing one's thinking on how to approach conversation with people who require more gray and less directness.

This works on the evangelism question, too. The Scriptures teach you're either saved or your not (Romans 10:1). You've been born again or you haven't (John 3:7).

Sometimes going right to the heart of the question works for people.

Sometimes it doesn't.

For those whom I don't know as well or at all, I have learned to go a bit against the grain of reality and put the question on a spectrum. I can leave it open-ended, too: “Where are you on the theological spectrum?”

If they don't know what theological means, I ask, “What do you think about matters of faith?”

Sometimes using the word theological unintentionally functions as a shibboleth for denominational clarification with those who are already saved. I don't make an effort to keep the conversation on that topic.

Anything that leaves room for someone to respond with more than two options, especially opposite ones, is helpful for continuing conversation and building relationships.

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