How do you communicate with people? It might seem obvious. You talk, you converse, you write, you debate and so on. But how do you really get through to people? Increasingly, I notice that everyone thinks what they think and hardly anyone ever changes their mind. As people think and believe radically different things, that's a problem. Has it always been like this? To a degree, no doubt, but it seems to be getting worse. Perhaps this is because of social media where people can find their little niche and then just stay there, but I don't see this as the whole cause. The more self-centred we become, and as a race we are becoming much more self-centred, partly because of the culture, partly because of the nature of human development, the more this problem arises.
I know two people so encrusted in self-delusion that nothing can get through to them. One seems to be animated by the spirit of destruction, anger, resentment and the like, the other by the spirit of nihilism, a kind of cold intellectualism. In their own eyes they have formed their opinions from reason but in fact that is generously supplemented, underpinned really, by prejudices, fears and insecurities, and they use these opinions as a kind of self-protection and justification of personal shortcomings. I wonder if this is common. When talking to these people I notice they never actually listen to what I say or respond to points I might have made. The former constantly interrupts anyway and the latter hides behind an intellectual wall which simply rebuffs anything that does not conform to his personal ideology. Neither are in any way open to truth. They are so identified with their world view that they cannot accept anything that does not square with it. It seems that if they did allow this their very sense of self would start to crumble.
Now, I know we all share this attitude to a certain extent. I'm not immune myself. It is a general human failing but in these people, as I think in many others now, it has become absolute. When I talk to them about anything outside their bubble of belief I hit a wall and they become defensive and antagonistic. As this bubble is, in the one case, far left ideology, and, in the other, atheistic materialism, that is very destructive. But in fact it would also be destructive if the bubble were formed from truth or relative truth. Even a believing Christian must be open to truth beyond his belief. If he is not it risks either crystallising or becomes like an ingrowing toenail by which I mean a limiting rather than a liberating factor in his life. If something is not open to growth and development then it is likely to turn bad. Growth and development doesn't mean radical change. In religious terms it simply means greater height and depth.
What causes this attitude of closed-offness? Two things, I would say. One is a very strong sense of ego. That's not a strong self or even sense of self but a strong attachment to self. Self is exclusive, all-important, but it is also fragile and needs to be supported by ideas that are relevant not because of their conformity to truth but by how much they reinforce the ego and can uphold and justify its prejudices and allay its fears.
The other factor, of course, is loss of religion. Religion can be made to support ego but generally it is the one thing stronger than ego in that God is clearly greater than self. If there is nothing greater than self the way is clear for self to become a god in its own right. This, I believe, is what is happening to these people and many others.
What's the cure? It's the same cure as for all the ills of life in this mortal world. Love of God or love of truth. If you love truth more than yourself or, at least, more than your personal opinions, then your mind is open. If not then it is not or not properly. But love of truth needs to develop into love of God because God is Truth and so if you really do love truth, you must eventually see this.
More and more people back themselves into an intellectual corner because of their egos. The only way out of this is through humility and love which are the primary Christian virtues but they are also the virtues we sorely lack today though we do have the pretence of them. The two protagonists in my tale would acknowledge their importance but this is also a major problem, A proud, angry person who knows he is proud and angry is closer to salvation than someone who believes or has made himself believe he already has all the required virtues. I once asked the nihilist if he thought he was a good person. He is highly moral in his own way and was surprised by the question. "Of course, I am" he said, "I certainly always try to be." I'm sure he does according to his ideology but it largely involves playing a role he thinks is the right one. It is not natural and without thought. None of it is spontaneous or comes from the heart. I told him I didn't think I was a good person (and I'm sure he agreed!) and I wasn't trying to outperform him in the virtue stakes in saying this but the fact is that anyone who has any sense of God knows how far they are from where they should be. Only the self-satisfied think they are good.
My teachers once told me that you teach best by silence and the rays you give out. I see the wisdom of this. When you talk you can be perceived as challenging or being engaged in a game in which there must be a winner and a loser. That naturally arouses the sense of a fight and brings reaction. But example gets round that problem. There is no confrontation. A person open to being changed is more likely to change if they feel they are not being forced to change. A person not open might also be more susceptible as the influence will work on a subconscious level. I recognise this is a lesson I still have to learn properly. Sometimes the best and soundest communication is through silence.