My roommate and I had a misunderstanding last night. But don’t worry… it was civil, and we cleared it up this morning. Our misunderstanding occurred when we were talking about the Open Mic that our school is putting on tomorrow. Our conversation went something like this:
Aly: That Open Mic sounds like fun. We should go to it.
Me: No, I hate going to things like that. Some of the people who participate in it are so awkward.
Aly: But I think it will be funny!
Me: That’s what I’m afraid of! That would be awful.
We both dropped the conversation a little confused, but content to agree to disagree, knowing we’d probably go to watch the Open Mic anyway.
This morning after church, Aly and I figured out why our conversation had been so strange the night before. After not paying attention to the sermon and instead thinking diligently about this subject, she realized the problem: When she hears “Open Mic,” she thinks of people doing stand-up comedy, while when I think of an Open Mic event, I think of people singing. Apparently, Open Mics are all of the above and more… who knew!
So Aly and I were technically using the same term to have a conversation about an upcoming event, but the ideas we had in our heads when we thought of this term was very different. I thought it was going to involve singing, which is typically awkward when that one person who thinks he can sing but can’t gets onstage and spends about seven minutes singing from his soul. She thought that a selection of hilarious comedians were going to be telling jokes, so her goal was for it to be funny.
Essentially, we had the same vocabulary, but we were defining it from different dictionaries.
Obviously, we worked out our differences and were able to understand each other’s perspectives… and make much more sense of last night’s conversation! But what happens when this type of misunderstanding occurs in more important situations?
My Bible professor related an illustration last week to a time when he was visiting friends in another country and arrived at their house with an empty, growling stomach per an invitation for “supper,” but in this family’s vocabulary, “supper” was a light serving of tea and cookies. The result? A late-night McDonald’s stop after the visit. He failed to understand the family’s vocabulary because neither party defined their terms.
What about an even more crucial situation in which understanding someone’s vocabulary is vital? For example, when I say that I believe in God, you might nod in agreement and say, “I believe in God too!” If we failed to employ critical thinking, we would go on our merry ways thinking that we have something in common.
But what if we asked a few more questions and dug a little deeper and discovered that by “God,” I meant Jehovah, while you meant Allah? Those are obviously not the same at all, and you and I would have some serious disagreement. If we didn’t investigate this subject further, however, we could talk for hours about how good God is, how kind God is, even how gracious and merciful God is, but our Gods could still be light-years apart.
And this, my friends, is important. To a Bible-believing Christian, this is the difference between life and death – heaven and hell. So we sure as anything better get it right.
Hence the importance of defining your terms and understanding someone else’s terms. Make sure you always ask questions and carefully research and for goodness sake, THINK.
Otherwise, you might show up at Open Mic and be very surprised when it’s actually an interpretive mime poetry reading.