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Communicating and bias with Brian McLaren: Compass episode 47

We all have our own well-reasoned opinions and points-of-view. Why can't other people see things as clearly as we do?

Brian McLaren joined the Compass Podcast noting that all of us carry certain biases, and when we recognize them we are far better capable of communicating our points of view.

Brian McLaren is a well-known and prolific author. His book A New Kind of Christian influenced a number of today’s Christian leaders. He also wrote The Secret Message of Jesus, relating the words of Jesus to 21st-century circumstances. Naked Spirituality offers “simple, doable, and durable” practices to help people deepen their life with God.

One of his perhaps lesser-known books is a little one called Why Don’t They Get It? It’s a little less about faith than many of his other books… and is more about communication. Specifically, it’s about how we communicate important and sometimes conflictual ideas. In this short book, Brian addresses 13 biases that are present in everybody--even me and you. And he gives practical insight into how these biases keep us and others from hearing new information.

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Why Don't They Get It, which describes the 13 biases we're carrying, is only available from the store on Brian's web site. Keep track of what Brian is up to and catch up on his writings (including poems!) at his web site.




[Ryan] This is the Compass Podcast where seeking the divine in the everyday. My name is Ryan Dunn and saying Hi on behalf of co-host Pierce Drake who we’ll hear from later. You know, part of recognizing divine presence is seeing the holy spark in other people. Let’s admit it can be really tough at times, can’t it? Especially when those other people hold different world views than us. Or, maybe they’re of a different political persuasion or they’re dismissive of what we believe. We can be honest. We’ve all run into situations where we’ve made a well-reasoned, common sense case for something in which we believe, only to have our point of view completely dismissed by someone else. What’s going on there? Why don’t they get it? And when someone is so resistant to reason how do we follow through on a Christian call to love that person like we love ourselves?

Brian McLaren is a really well-known and prolific author. His book A New Kind of Christian is a pivotal piece for a lot of today’s Christian leaders. He also wrote The Secret Message of Jesus, which was personally eye-opening for me in relating the words of Jesus to 21st century circumstances. Another book, Naked Spirituality offers simple, doable, endurable practices to help people deepen their life with God. One of those perhaps lesser known books is a little book called Why Don’t They Get it? It’s a little less about faith than many of his other books. It’s more about communications. Specifically it’s about how we communicate important and sometimes conflictual ideas. In this short book Brian addresses 13 biases that are present in everybody, even me and you, and gives practical insight on how these biases keep us and others from hearing new information. In identifying the biases Brian offers some insight on communicating with people with whom we disagree. And it’s no coincidence that we reached out to Brian to talk right now, just a few weeks before an election in the U.S. and at a time when we seemingly have so much polarization, where people are saying, I know you disagree with me, but it doesn’t matter; I’m gonna keep doing what I’m doing. So what do we do? Do we throw our arms up in the air and say, Forget it? Or do we find some more effective ways to communicate? That’s what Pierce and I talked to Brian McLaren about? It was such an amazing conversation, one that’s gonna stick with me for a while. I think it will stick with you as well. And it’s next on the Compass Podcast.

Brian McLaren, thank you so much for joining us. Brian, how goes it with your soul today?

[Brian] You know, I’m feeling strong and I’m feeling motivated, and I’m feeling inspired. And I feel like so much is at stake in our world today. I’m fired up and ready to go.

[Pierce] How do you take that, with everything going on, for the listener, for ourselves, for myself…take everything that’s going on, what are some habits or daily rituals or rhythms of life that you have found help you be able to answer that question that way in a season like today’s?

[Brian] Well, I’m sure there’s some days I couldn’t answer it quite that strong…

[Pierce] For sure. Yeah.

[Brian]…I’m just worn out and exhausted. But, you know, I’ve bit at this a long time. And so that’s a really good question. In my very early spiritual life I developed some basic disciplines like journaling and prayer and Bible reading and so on that set a foundation that has served me well in years to come. And I guess one way to describe that is to say the thing that I think exhausts us and wears us out is when we live by reactivity. In other words, where things happen and we are in such a reactive mode, our reactions then get us in trouble. And then now we have to react to our reactions and re-act to the reactions of others who are reacting to our reactions. And you know, there’s just no rest from that. So to me that was something that really happened literally 30 and 40 years ago, of setting that kind of basis. But nowadays I’d say if there’s one discipline or practice that helps me it’s just making sure that I rest. And some years ago say rest before you’re tired. I love that idea from the Jewish calendar where you think the day begins when you go to sleep. So instead of resting to recover from today’s craziness I try to go to sleep tonight to prepare myself for tomorrow. And that idea of not overdoing it, and not living out of reactivity. I’d say that’s what helps me.

[Pierce] That’s beautiful.

[Ryan] Indeed. The season that we’re in where I think so many people are tired out, merely from the discord that we feel from one person to the next—you know, the polarization that we hear about, that all affects us. You’ve spoken quite a bit in how we begin to bridge the gap a little bit, or at least come to like a sense of peace, like the gap being there if that’s there. And you couched this in conversations around biases that people hold—not just biases that other people hold. It’s important to note that we ourselves have some biases. What’s your story of discovery? Like, of uncovering your own biases, like Brian McLaren, person with biases. How’d you come across that?

[Brian] Well, here’s the terrible thing. For me, like anyone else, we’re usually the last to know what our own biases….


Other people can see them better than we can. But I was a pastor for 24 years. And before that I was a college English teacher. So… And since then I’ve been a writer. So I’m a professional communicator among other things, you might say. And a few years ago watching the political discourse happening in our country, watching people become meaner than I’ve ever seen them be in my entire life, watching norms be shattered, watching all these things happen, I got nervous. And I have two friends who are psychologists. And I contacted them and I said, Look, if you see anything that can help me understand what’s going on in our country right now, will you send it to me? Only send me stuff that you think is scientifically credible and so on. And so I just started immersing myself in social psychology and trying to understand what’s going on. And one thing led to another and I realized that there was this feel about authoritarianism and about how certain kinds of authoritarian leaders tell people what they want to hear. By doing so the leader manipulates the people to do what he wants them to do. And they’re happy to be manipulated because they’re hearing what they want to hear. Well, that opened me up into all this study of bias. And I started with one, and then it was up to three. And then it was up to seven. And I think now I’ve got a list of 13 biases that are just helping me understand every headline I read, every political speech I see. And then once you know what these things are it’s a little bit like, you know, COVID-19, you find that oh, loss of smell or loss of taste are symptoms, or use of drugs. What are the symptoms that I’m playing into? Biases, glitches in the way my own brain works.

[Pierce] Yeah. That’s really easy to point out in other people. It seems to be, especially if you’re on Twitter for more than 5 minutes, you can see it, point it out. But, so many of us, we don’t want to do that work on our own, not toward ourselves. That exposes our own stuff and exposes the way we think isn’t the right way we think. I meet with a pastor who’s a retired pastor. He’s late 70s, early 80s. And I take him to lunch once a month. And he (long story short) grew up in…was born in America, but his parents were from Germany. They went back to Germany for a death of a relative. And while they were there, kind of the country shut down. He was…. Back in the 40s and 30s, and he was a tall young man, with a straight back and blond hair and blue eyes. And as an American got put in Hitler’s Youth because his parents were from Germany. And so he’s been somebody that I sit down and ask questions, a lot of this kind of stuff, and just learn from. And one of the things he asked me the other day… I love this phrase; I’d never heard it. He said, How you researched your thinking? 

Have you researched your thinking? And so, for somebody listening to this that just for maybe a moment is going, how do I…how do I do that? How do I look at my own self and understand my biases. Or, another way of putting it, how do I research my thinking?

What are ways that they can take steps?

[Brian] Well, first of all, that’s a great phrase—research your thinking. Let me just give a quick example. I am someone who has become convinced over many years that the environmental crisis is an existential threat, in that it’s not just climate change, although that’s so serious. But what we’re doing to the soil, what we’re doing to our oceans, what we’re doing…there’s this mass insect die-off, mass reptile die-off, mass mammal die-off. I mean, what we’re doing to the earth is not sustainable. And I have grandchildren I care about them. So I’m really convinced about this. Right? The other day I was in YouTube and a YouTube thing came up about the environment, about solar panels. I just invested a big chunk of money to get solar panels last year. And it was about the ecological damage done by solar panels, and how there’s not a plan to deal with this. Well, I’ve gotta tell you, everything in me wanted to not watch it. I started it. I thought, this is…. And something in my brain said this is telling me something I don’t want to hear. I got to see, oh, that’s how bias works. I just invested money for something I call cash-bias. It has to do with being invested in something financially. There’s something I call complexity bias. I want a simple answer, and now they tell me that my simple answer of solar panels actually has some complexity to it. Right? I found all my biases kicking up. Here’s the problem, though. Probably 99.9% of people don’t even know that they have biases. Unless they have a deep contemplative practice they just assume that their reactions are to be believed, the truth, exactly. So, one of the biggest things is to learn to separate my thoughts from myself, to separate my reactions from myself. This is why I love that…. There’s verse in the New Testament in the Book of James that says, “Let everyone be slow to anger, slow to speak, quick to listen.” And so this sense that don’t just live by your reactivity. That to me is the key, to see something happens and it makes me angry. Or, something happens and it makes me happy. Well, maybe I should interrogate the reasons behind that, research my own thinking, study my own thinking.

Yeah, yeah.

[Ryan] You mentioned contemplative practice there, Brian. What is a contemplative practice that you employ that helps you kind of turn your critical eye inward, where you are able to kind of identify the biases most likely at work in yourself?

[Brian] You know, there’s a saying in 12-step recovery, you’re only as sick as your reactivity. And in some ways I think a core of the contemplative practice is cutting the line of reactivity. So what happens when you begin to learn, for example, centering prayer. You sit quietly and your thoughts come by. And what you do is a thought comes by and, you know, I’m sitting here; I want to be quiet for a few minutes. I think, it’s Monday. On Monday that’s trash day; oh, the trash…I forgot to take my trash cans out. And then, I’ve gotta go get ‘em. So that’s just reactivity. But I stop and I say, Oh, I’m taking some time for contemplation. Isn’t that interesting? I became all agitated about my trash cans. Let’s let that go. So then I just return to a restful contemplative state. And then I hear a truck go by and I think, Oh, I wonder if the mail truck has come yet? And oop, there’s another thought. Well, the act of noticing your thoughts rather than being immersed in them and then being able to let them go, that’s one of the skills of contemplative practice. And what studying bias has done for me is it’s helped me become a little more sensitive to the kinds of thoughts that kidnap me and that I need to be able to say, Hold it; I don’t want to go on a reactivity cycle with this thing. Let’s see what’s going on.

[Pierce] How do you do that embracing that kind of moment where you want to push it back and you embrace the moment a litter more? What’s the way that you decide, okay, I’ve embraced this long enough? 

I’m done embracing it and I just need to turn it off. Or I need to go to something else. What’s the thing in you that goes, okay, it’s time to kick it?

[Brian] The thing I would say first is that we have to realize that a lot of people have spent zero minutes of their lives ever trying to notice a difference between who they are and what they think. Their opinions are of them. Right? And so the first thing I would say is until people learn how to make that distinction, they’re not gonna be able to do anything. They’ll be cast here and there by every wind, every opinion that comes along. They’ll react to it, agree with it. A lot of us fall this dualistic or binary thinking. You’re either for it or against it. Everything is for it or against it. And so whenever I’m in that mode (for/against, for/against) I become suspicious. Right now I’m just living in that kind of binary mode. But I’ll tell you the other thing that helps me with this, it’s to realize that my thinking doesn’t just happen inside my head. My thinking is connected by my ears and my eyes to what I’m reading, what I’m hearing, what I’m watching on television, what I’m seeing on my Twitter feed. And every one of those interactions is an attempt, very often by somebody to sell me something, get me to vote for something, get me to support something, get me to not support something. And when I realized that I am under an onslaught of attempts to manipulate or direct or push me in one direction or another, that gives me added motivation to say if I’m getting sucked into something I’m losing my self-control. I’m losing my freedom. I’m becoming somebody’s puppet on a string.

[Ryan] Going back to that video that you came across on Facebook, (anti-solar power video) no doubt there were some compelling arguments made within that video. In the same way that those of us who believe that there are human factors at play in creating global warming, the evidence that we see and are convinced that something is going on here. And we can give out these arguments to other people—very well-reasoned arguments, certainly passionate arguments, evidence that has convinced us, and as we hand that over to them they still don’t get it. What are some of the factors that in them still rejecting what it is that we have to say that seems so clear to us?

[Brian] Sure. Well let me just mention a couple of different kind of biases that are play in situations like that. And I should say one of the very first things that I did when I was watching this video is I did a little research on the guy giving the video. And he actually believes that climate change is real. In fact it’s because he is so concerned about it that he made this video. And his point isn’t don’t get solar panels; his point is: don’t think getting solar panels is gonna solve all of our problems. We’ve got even deep problems and we’ve gotta go to those deeper levels with it, which was great. But, the most basic bias is called confirmation bias. And this has been proven by psychologists, social psychologists, in a hundred different ways. But confirmation bias basically is this: what I currently think is what I want to keep thinking. And if an idea comes that reinforces or confirms what I already think, I welcome it. It’s like a magnet. It gets accepted by my brain. But if it contradicts what I already think or disturbs what I already think, my brain has ways of saying, Oh, that’s stupid, or that’s idiotic, or that’s this, you know, whatever. You put a label on, find some way, faster than we consciously are aware. Confirmation bias is really, really basis. Another is complexity bias. We like things to be simple. And so if something comes along that just feels to us: that’s more complicated than what I currently think, then our brain has a way of filtering it out. The way I say it is: our brains prefer a simple lie to a complex truth. So, that’s another one. Another one is community bias. It is very difficult to believe something that my community doesn’t believe. There’s a news channel out there that people often people listen to it as if it’s a religious broadcasting network. Right? And they listen to it day and night. And it creates a sense of we’re a group of people who see things in a certain way. And so they’re a part now of that community. And they become aware that if they were to change their mind on any of the issues that that community agrees on that they would be mocked and ridiculed and hated by those people who they listen to every day. Your brain is so afraid of being rejected by its community. Put those together and you realize, yeah, there are reasons why when you give people straight logic their brain shortcuts the logic, short circuits any thought patterns that would open them up to that data.

[Pierce] When you were talking about confirmation bias and like hearing something that you disagree with and then shoving it aside automatically, downplaying it, calling it stupid, whatever, I begin to think about a few situations and then you confirm that with the community bias to where, like, we’ve gotten to a place where before we even hear the thought that may be confirming or not confirming of our position, we make judgments based on who that community is giving us that information. And so we don’t even get down to the truth of it or the falsehood of it. The biases don’t play one at a time. They’re playing together in this, like, harmony of biases that they’re stacked on top of each other. And so as I reject something it’s more than just one or I embrace something, it’s more than just one biases. Tell me this. What’s something that we’re losing out on because of the biases?

[Brian] What ends up happening is we cluster with people who share our biases. And that makes us automatically reject anyone who has truth that we don’t already have. So if I can be very blunt about it, it means that we stay stupid and we stay stupid with other stupid people. And we reinforce one another’s stupidity. Jesus called this blind leaders of the blind. And this is a problem that all human beings face. It’s one of the reasons why in literature as well as in Scripture so often it’s an unexpected stranger who enters into your life who, by you showing hospitality to that stranger, by you being kind, or by that stranger being kind to you, somebody now has entered your world with a fresh idea. And because of some kindness or some connection it makes it much, much harder to reject what they’re saying or reject their perspective. In fact, if I could just give a quick example of this…. Another one of the biases is called complimentarity bias. It says that if you are mean to me, then I will not believe what you say to me. If you are nice to me, I would like to believe what you say to me. Right? Well, guess what happens. When we line everybody up in the two parties, you know, or different religions or denominations. You know, I’m Christian, you’re Muslim. You know, whatever. I’m liberal; you’re conservative. We have all these ways of dividing people. And what it means is that we are mean to each other. And any truth that people from the other side have, their meanness makes me not be willing to accept it. And guess what. The meanness on my side makes others not be willing to accept it. And this is one of the reasons why the ability to be kind and gracious to people who don’t understand you is a phenomenal gift. If I could go back to the…when I’d first begun being a preacher I would have had a whole different approach to communication, if I’d understood how deeply people are held in the grip of bias.

[Ryan] Wow. So, what are some of the ways that you might be different? How would you communicate your truth differently today than you did back whenever that was?

[Brian] Sure. First of all, I would have to decide, I’d be clear in my mind. Am I trying to help people who already share my confirmation bias, or am I trying to help people who don’t already share it? Because the ways that you communicate, the ways that you preach to the choir—people who already agree with you—are very different. But here’s where it gets tricky. Sometimes the ways that you amen’s from the people who agree with you guarantee that you’ll drive away anybody who doesn’t. So one of the things I would say is it becomes extremely important to never dehumanize the other, never misrepresent the other, to always treat the other with great kindness and compassion. Of course, this is deeply, deeply just smart for communication as well as being moral and Christ-like. But I would say there are times where you have to surprise the other. Sometimes people will only be shocked out of their confirmation bias. Someone they respect speaks a tough truth to them. And that’s what it takes to wake them up out of this deep slumber of only hearing what they always want to hear.

[Pierce] There’s a few things happening there that come to mind. One is self-awareness. Obviously knowing your biases. But speaking from a communications standpoint, who are you speaking to and what’s the purpose of that conversation—whether it be a one-on-one conversation or more of a public speaking role, whether it be preaching or giving a message or Ted talk or whatever it is. And so I remember listening to one of my favorite pastors who’s out in L.A. And he said he showed up to an event to preach and the person who picked him up from the airport and they were on the way over, and the person driving, kind of the host for that conference, said, Man, they love you. They are gonna shout you down and say amen to you the whole time. And so the pastor goes, So what you’re saying is if I say things they agree with they’ll shout me down. And he goes, Yeah, of course. And they were like, Well, that’s not really why I’m here. And…. So, we’ve talked a lot about the biases of others and ourselves and having conversations between one party and another party. That kind of stuff. How do you go about speaking truth to people that quote/unquote be in your side of the conversation? Thanksgiving is coming up, right? And so a lot of family is about to gather around the table together. And it’s become one of the most divisive tables in the past few years, to actually sit around. A lot of us ten years ago said, Hey, we’re actually in the same camp. And now it’s 2020 and we’re not in the same camp anymore. How do we speak to those moments?

[Brian] Well, so much to be said about that question. First, I used to think that the goal is to make sure we have a nice Thanksgiving dinner. But now I’ve come to believe actually if truth matters as much as we say it does, then maybe the discomfort at a Thanksgiving dinner isn’t the worst thing in the world. Let me risk shocking some people. We live in a white supremacist country. This country began with white supremacy. It began with white Christian supremacy. It began with white Christian male supremacy. And what that means is millions of white people had nice Thanksgiving dinners. And nobody ever challenged them on the harm they were doing to native peoples or to black people or to brown people. We live in an environmentally destructive civilization. And again, maybe it’s dangerous enough that somebody has to be willing to disrupt the peace on Thanksgiving Day. But here’s the problem. Very often the way that happens is people get into a fight. And fights almost always make people dig in their heels and become more resistant to the other person’s idea. So how do we get through those kinds of biases? And so I’ll just tell you one simple little Thanksgiving Day trick I would suggest. When Uncle Harvey says something that you think is racist or bigoted or just plain wrong, here’s what I recommend you say. I recommend you say, Wow, Uncle Harvey, I see that differently. Now as soon as you say that Uncle Harvey is gonna say, Well, what do you mean? And this is where I think your response has to be very strong. You have to say, I don’t need to go into it right now, Uncle Harvey. This is Thanksgiving Day. But I want you to know I really see that differently. And if you’d ever like to know on some other time, feel free to ask. Now if Uncle Harvey really, really presses then you say, Uncle Harvey, I don’t want to have an argument with you on Thanksgiving Day. I just want you to know I see it differently. But if you’d like to know the story of how I came to see it differently I’ll be glad to share with you that story.

[Pierce] I love that.

[Brian] Now, what we’ve done is we’ve given Uncle Harvey and everyone at the table a phenomenal gift. We had the courage to differ. Because, you know, there’s a lot of Uncle Harveys who say stupid or wrong things and everybody just smiles and chokes on the pecan pie while they listen. We had the courage to differ graciously. But then we’ve made it clear. I love you, Uncle Harvey. And it doesn’t change the way I treat you. You don’t have to agree with me, even though maybe you think I have to agree with you. But then we shift from an argument to a story. And very often that story is going to involve, if I used to think the way Uncle Harvey did, instead of telling him out, he has to overcome his bias, I get to tell the story of how I overcame my own.

[Ryan] Do you think that storytelling needs to be the default of us communicating our differences?

[Brian] Well, it’s an important part of it. It’s an important part of it, especially in this time. Hannah Arendt, the brilliant philosopher who became really a philosopher of authoritarianists looking over World War II and over Nazism and all the rest…. Hannah Arendt said the way an authoritarian or a dictator or a fascist works is they bombard you with such a blizzard of B.S. (right). They bombard you with so many lies that you give up on being able to tell which lie…which is a lie and which is truth. And eventually you assume everybody is lying so much that you stop caring about truth and all you care about is who’s the cleverest liar. I tell you, I see that happening in our culture. And so what I think that means for us is that we have to have a deep reverence for truth. But a lot of people don’t. They’ve already gone way far down that road of authoritarianism. They’ve become authoritarian followers who give up on truth. And all they care about is winning. When that happens, sometimes it’s only a story that can get through. Let me just give one great example. Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan, which is one of the most fantastic bias-busting acts of communication in human history. The hero of the story is a member of the bad guys. The victim of the story is a member of the good guys. Right? Everything about that story is brilliantly designed to subvert bias. And I think Jesus obviously gives us a pretty darn good example.

[Pierce] That was my next question. You know, this is a podcast where we talk about and have conversations about the spiritual in the everyday. And so through that, how can we learn from Jesus in that? Like, he seems to go in every camp that he can be welcomed in, and sometimes even not welcomed in. The reason you’re able to answer and you can please me I’m wrong in this. You know, the reason you’re able to answer your uncle the way that is, is there is some relational equity there that you already have built up, that you’re able to pull from. Like you put some deposits there throughout the years. And that’s already playing into it. I think it’s interesting, talking about truth, that famous line when Jesus and Pilot where Pilot goes, Well, what is truth? And he’s asking it to the man, I am the way, the truth…. I am the truth.

[Brian] Yes. I mean, that exchange is just worth a whole study on its own because what Pilot represents there is power. Jesus says to him, You would have no power if it weren’t given to you from above. See, that’s authoritarianism. Authoritarianism doesn’t care about truth. It only cares about the power to win. Whenever you hear people who are obsessed with winning and they violate the truth, that’s a sure sign you’re dealing with a person on the authoritarian road. They’re either an authoritarian leader or an authoritarian follower who subcontracted out their own brain, their own thinking, to let an authoritarian do their thinking for them. So Jesus says, You know, you have no power. And I’m just here to testify to the truth. What is truth? I think Pilot’s question is like a dismissing. You know, ‘What is truth?’ What is truth in comparison to power? But truth is…truth spoken in love, I think, is one of the greatest powers that there ever could be. And this becomes a challenge. How do we speak the truth in an attitude of love in the midst of all the danger and craziness and insanity, and especially because a lot of us grew up in a context where people seem to care about the truth. But very, very quickly the people have substituted the truth for winning.

[Pierce] Yeah. Wow.

[Ryan] It’s contagious because you get around some people who do it…. I think Paul quotes the old proverb, Bad company corrupts good morals. And if you’re around people who don’t care about the truth, then it’s easy for your own norms and standards to start to get lower. And this is something I think we have to reinforce with people. We have to say, Do you love the truth enough that you are willing to suffer inside your own mind, for having to reorganize your thinking if truth comes that makes you uncomfortable? And I think we have to even just ask people, when was the last time that you made yourself uncomfortable by entertaining a truth that contradicted what you already thought because if some people, if they’re honest, they can’t come up with an example in the last 20 years.

I was thinking like 6 months. A few days, a few weeks, a few months.

Listen, there are a lot of people my age who have not changed their mind on anything in 20 or 30 years. And that either means they were perfect and absolute geniuses 20 or 30 years ago, or it means that they stopped listening and they stopped thinking. And they’ve been living in the little bubble of confirmation bias, you know, for an awful long time.

[Ryan] Speak some hope for us. It sounds like one of the reasons why we have a hold onto bias is because it’s painful to redirect those ideas. Is it really as painful as we might see from the beginning of the journey?

[Brian] Here’s the problem. When you’re forced to live with lies, when you’re pressured by your community to live with things that you don’t actually think are true, when you feel this mounting evidence growing up…. And with the scientist, philosopher of science, named Thomas Kuhn, called these paradigms. You know, you’re part of a system of confirmation bias, and now evidence starts to arise. And it’s so much work to keep all that evidence at bay. So there comes a time when dropping your bias, letting your paradigm crumble, and welcoming the truth that’s trying to get in is such a relief. It’s such a joy. It’s such relief, you know. It just takes the weight of the world off your shoulders. The truth sets you free. And here’s the other thing. When you find yourself part of the community that punishes you for asking questions, or punishes you for thinking differently, it pounces on any difference. You may really value being part of that group, but the time comes where another group welcomes you, and they don’t put those constraints on you. And now you find another community. And I think that this is what the community of Jesus was originally supposed to be about. Now sadly a lot of religious communities today are just places of the worst kind of dualistic thinking, the worst kind of bias, the worst kind of community and confirmation bias, all in this one big ball of knots. But, when you come into a spiritual community where you are loved and accepted as you are, it is such a relief. It is so free that when you’re in the company of people who love the truth, whatever it may be, oh, my goodness, you feel this is what life is supposed to be.


[Pierce] Yeah. That’s the…. To use Ryan’s words there, I mean, that’s such hopeful language. I talked to a buddy of mine the other day, you know, works with pastors around the world that we would know and have listened to and like and don’t like and all those kind things. And I just asked him. I said, What are the…not just pastors but leaders doing really well right now? What are the ones that are doing well? What are they doing? What’s the common denominator? And they said, they’re finding ways, in the midst of all of this, to have hope be their number one message. And so I’m thinking through myself and vulnerability encouraged to express this like one, it has to do with threatening my family has grown and I got married and I have a kid now. And so holidays look different for us. But I quit going home, my home, I quit going home for Thanksgiving 5 years ago, for a lot of these reasons. And Christmas did not seem to be as political as Thanksgiving was. And so re-looking at how to engage that conversation. I definitely know I have enough relationship equity that …. I’ve never heard the way you phrased it. I never heard the way you phrased to say, Hey I see…. Not that I disagree with you, I see that differently than you.


That key language line there. And then, because actually I’m okay not having that conversation with you now, and working that out. And then I would love to tell you the story. I mean, that’s such a key line for us today. Let me tell you the story on how I ended up in a different spot, because at one point I wasn’t. That’s so powerful.

[Brian] You know, this is strong language. But Jesus said ‘Don’t throw your pearls before swine.’ And I think what he meant is if you’re in a room full of people who just want to pounce on you, every question’s a gotcha question. They’re just looking for somebody to pounce, he’s saying it’s not smart, it’s not safe. They’re gonna do damage to you. So you don’t just throw everything out there to them. And I think there’s also ways that you have to protect yourself where you might say if you’re at Thanksgiving dinner…. You might say, Hey, look, Uncle Harvey, if you want me to share my story I’ve got to tell you if you interrupt me I’m not going to continue. If you try to correct what I’m saying, if you want to hear my story, you’ve got to let me finish. And then if you’d like to share your story you can. But I don’t want to get into an argument with you. I already know what I think. I already know what you think. I don’t think this is a great time or place for an argument. But it could be a great time and place for sharing stories. But a story is a sacred thing. And you don’t attack somebody’s story. And I think we have to create guidelines and protections for ourself and for other people for this. This is why good conversations very often have very clear ground rules.


I’m in growing numbers of spaces. My friend Mickey Scottbey Jones calls them ‘brave spaces,’ where we create rules. We say one of the rules here is no interruption. And another one of the rules is: use I language. Don’t say you’re wrong. Say I see that differently. And if people refuse… It’s a little bit like a presidential debate we saw recently. When people agree to rules and then break them. Well, we can just be sure that good conversation isn’t going to happen. We know at that moment, this is not about a quest for truth. This is about a quest for power. And when people try to overcome you with power they don’t have your best interest in mind. Right? And they might not even understand it. The bombastic Uncle Harvey who’s always insulting people and fighting with everybody. What we might not know if we just peel down the layers, what we might find out is here is an afraid insecure man who knows that nobody likes them. And he’s given up on being liked and all he wants to do now is at least dominate. Like, this is the only pleasure he gets is to dominate somebody. Well, you know what? That’s not a great situation to have a meaningful conversation.

[Ryan] That’s convicting though because from that light we all know quote/unquote a Harvey. You know. It may not be an uncle, but it’s somebody that we’ve had a conversation with online or somebody who we have in the workplace. It pays to kind of reframe that idea of this is not somebody that is purposefully trying to be domineering, but just doesn’t know how…..

[Brian] And we have to be honest that there’s a part of Uncle Harvey in all of us.

And that’s where then maybe the most powerful rule of communication is to listen. If we realize, you know what, Uncle Harvey dominates because he doesn’t know how to be liked. So maybe what I do is I say, Hey, Uncle Harvey, tell me what you were like when you were 8 years old. What did you like to do for fun? Hey, Uncle Harvey, tell me about how you and Aunt Helen met. Uncle Harvey, tell me about your first job. Well, suddenly now we’ve shifted that away and we’re letting Uncle Harvey be a person. We’ve given him the most valuable currency in the universe. We’re paying him attention. And we’re showing interest in him as a person. Here’s where things are really interesting. If we want to break through bias that’s complementarity bias. We show genuine curiosity about somebody. And at that moment they’re more likely…. They may not be able to, but they’re more likely to have something in them say, I’m curious about you, too. So listening ends up being super powerful. And in fact, in the midst of political debates there’s some really solid data that says the single best way you can help somebody change their mind is not by arguing with them. It’s by listening to them.

[Ryan] Well, Brian McLaren, for folks who want to follow up with you in sharing your story and check out the myriad of things that you’re up to, where’s a good place to kind of follow you online?

[Brian] My website is, and then you’ll find links there to Twitter, Facebook and my podcast and so on.

[Pierce] Well, thank you so much for taking some time out of your busy day and speaking of good truth and good lessons for us. At the core of it you’re giving us tools to see the ‘imago dei’ in the person across the table from us. That’s the tools you’re giving us. So thank you for giving us tools to see Christ in those around us.

[Ryan] If you want to connect with us find Pierce on social media under jpbii. I can be connected with the Rethink Church on social media. My name is Ryan Dunn by the way. Thanks for joining us. Please share the goodness in your discoveries. The best way to do that in relation to this podcast is by rating and reviewing the Compass Podcast on your listening platform. Thanks ago to Reed Gaines for editing the Compass Podcast. We’ll be back with another episode in 2 weeks. Be well.

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