I have learned that the most important thing in any interdisciplinary discussion is communication. When I wrote my senior honors thesis-- with readers from two very different departments-- I learned that I needed definitions of even the smallest bits of jargon and field-specific vocabulary. The same goes for any such discussion. When two worlds collide-- whether it be in the field of faith, of science, of ideology, or any mix-- communication is a must. So I’m devoting this post to communication and a few practical tips for improving communication between groups, people, and ideologies--especially those that seem to naturally disagree--
1. Humility. No one is right about everything. And the only way we learn is to recognize this. Even if you’re trying to teach, inform, or persuade-- you will get more flies with honey than with vinegar.
Jesus himself was humble. He did not go where He was not wanted and did not push his beliefs on those who did not want to listen. His disciples were taught to do the same-- in fact, to leave town and “shake the dust off their feet” when they were not received and welcomed. This doesn't mean we don't stand up for our beliefs, but it does mean that our audience matters-- and that we shouldn't expect people who don't believe the way we do to subscribe to our views.
In science or any academic field, different disciplines have different criteria for what counts as evidence or sound data. I have seen too many professors scoff at other areas because another field did not use as “stringent” criteria as the field they were in. Different is not better or worse. Just because you don’t see the value in an area doesn’t mean it lacks value. Humility and openness do a world of good.
2. Clarity. We are all representatives of our respective groups. And we are all members of many groups. Don’t talk idly. Say things that matter. be clear. (And in your clarity, stay humble.) Define your terms. Say what you mean and mean what you say. You don’t like the term “feminist”? Why? You're skeptical of a specific scientific field or new methodology? Let’s talk about things. Intelligent conversations don’t have to turn into debates. When we’re humble and clear-- we are open to new possibilities and learning can take place. We may never agree-- but we can understand-- and that is one step closer to a better world.
3. “I’m sorry.” This goes back to humility. Again, we are all representatives of our respective groups. And those groups have all been hurt and hurt others. The public is sometimes mistrustful of science-- science has sometimes done bad things. People (and science) are often mistrustful of religion-- religion has sometimes done bad things. And we are all the victim of the simple fact that most of us are represented by the media’s portrayal of our group- whatever it may be. Sometimes, “I’m sorry” is the best thing we can say. “No, I don’t believe x is right-- but I’m sorry that people of my group have said that or done that.” This is a powerful statement of both clarity and humility. We are all individuals. We all hold beliefs. And we should all hold our respective groups accountable for their actions. We can discuss, even debate, as passionately as we like. But we should do so in love. We should do so with the other person's best interest at heart. And it is possible to approach anything in such a way as to make everyone feel that their views matter.
If we want politicians to care about science (and to support environmental protections, funding for research, etc)-- we need people to care about science and use their vote accordingly. As scientists, we then need to communicate with many different people groups about the importance of science. This may mean bridging relations with conservative and/or religious groups. Not that it will change our message- but that we can be big enough to apologize for times when members of these groups have not been treated with respect, and that we will hold ourselves and members of our group to a higher standard.
No matter what group you're a part of-- we all have a lot of work to do to facilitate understanding and communication to reach our goals.
But here's the good news: it can be done. Communication bridges gaps. Communication forms community.