Why we don’t get it

Our traditional approach to facilitate change in the lives of people runs in to the obstacles of the human mind. We believe that if we just give people information, they will take that knowledge, apply it to their thinking or their practices and they will change.  Sadly it just doesn’t work that way.

There are different methods of exchanging information and some are better than others.  Contemporary studies in communication reveal that monologue is pretty much the worst approach.  Combine other elements such as the visual or engaging in some sort of practical hands on application boosts the retention rate considerably.

Even with these different approaches we still must contend with humanity’s predisposition selective exposure.  Selective exposure is concept more well known in communications and media research.  The rest of us might understand a the similar notion: “we only hear what we want to hear.”  Most people desire to have what researchers call “cognitive equilibrium.” We like to maintain our ordered understanding of the world.  We have a natural tendency to resist anything that might upset the equilibrium. Our strategies for doing this include selective exposure, selective perception and selective retention.

Selective exposure: avoid information from sources that conflicts with ours.

Selective perception: when confronting unsympathetic material we literally don’t perceive it or reinterpret it to fit our views.

Selective retention: we only remember information that fits with our current view.

Try to talk to a man watching a football game and you might see all three.  I’m sure there are some reading this who have already become suspicious that I’m introducing too much “psychology” here but what these researchers have found has only confirmed my experience.  It happens often when I’ve preached a sermon. After the sermon I’m greeted by well wishers outside the sanctuary thanking me for my message. I ask “what did you like about it?”  They a) can’t recall anything I actually said b) thank me for something I didn’t actually say c) thank me for something that was the actual opposite of what I said.  I’m sure I’m not the first to wonder what I was actually accomplishing after investing much of my week preparing for a half hour sermon on Sunday morning.

There are other factors that makes us more or less disposed to selectively process what we observe.  Fear, anxiety, elitism, and conflict can all amplify our desire to maintain equilibrium.

This brings us to a very simple point.  We are much more likely to learn and change when we are personally motivated towards that end.  If we are in an environment that is intended to facilitate learning and change like a school or a church, we are much less likely to learn if we participating out of duty, obligation or fear. You might want to rephrase and clarify this last sentence. I would change it but I’m not quite sure what you are trying to emphasize. Also, it is an “if” sentence without a “then”.

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