One of the consistent patterns I have found in my life is that the things that interest me do not often interest very many other people. It can be distressing to see someone who is very polite trying desperately not to be bored when one is talking about one’s research into Chilean military history or when talks about various other esoteric matters that one has read in dozens or hundreds of books, like the fall of the Roman Republic and its implications for contemporary America. It is also true that I have frequently found that the subjects that others are passionately interested are not particularly interesting to me. Yet I do not find myself as bored by them others seem to be by my interests, and this lack of reciprocity irritates me. When I meet someone and they are interested in something that does not greatly interest me, I tend to think about other people I know who share that or a related passion, thus thinking to introduce two people who would be very interested in each other’s thoughts, or I ponder what it is about the subject that interests the person I am talking to, or I celebrate that someone is interesting in a subject I care little about and so they are able to act in that domain so that I don’t have to.
In the course of spending quite a bit of time this week on Duolingo doing a crash course in Portuguese, I have rather naturally thought about the implications of such linguistic studies on the basics of the Feast of Tabernacles and understanding the Bible in general. The sort of vocabulary that I have been learning has reminded me of some of the phrases in the Bible that some of us think of as shorthand. For example, some people celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles because it offers an easy opportunity to drink wine and strong drink. Messages frequently refer to vines and fig trees or lions and lambs, and these are all the sorts of phrases that would appear as basic and fundamental phrases were we to structure a language course around the vocabulary of the Feast of Tabernacles. These phrases are unfamiliar to outsiders who do not keep or have any interest in such religious matters but are common to the point of being cliches to those of us who have kept the Feast of Tabernacles for many decades. The language that we use frequently assumes that we are talking to someone who has the same sort of interests or knowledge that we have, and when that is not the case, our communication is alien and not always very welcoming to others who feel as if they are missing some context.
Nor is this phenomenon limited to the learning of foreign languages for specific purposes and with specific ends in mind. An online acquaintance of mine who makes a weekly video about the Billboard Hot 100 has decided to revamp his channel and give more video longform essays about subjects that interest him and earlier today as I write this I saw that he felt it necessary to start thinking of the terminology he needs to explain so that his thinking makes sense. This is a common problem among those of us who have been educated or trained in technical or cultural jargon. Because our supposed knowledge about subjects is generally tied up with words that are deliberately hard to understand and whose purpose is to obfuscate rather than to make plain, when we talk about what we know or what we think we know, we must first make sure that others know the words that are coming out of our mouths, and we hope that others are interested in and not bothered or offended by the fact that we may use very technical or specialized language and not the sort of language that is commonly used by people who do not read a lot of books or who have not undertaken extensive education in subjects. Whether or not this assumption holds varies on the approach of the person and the interest of the intended audience into the thoughts and opinions of others.
It is hard to place ourselves in the positions of other people. Our ideal audience consists of people who generally agree with us, like us, understand or are willing to learn what we are knowledgeable about, and who have an interest in what we are so that we may amuse and inform each other in the course of enjoyable interaction. Yet this ideal does not always find itself translated into reality. If someone is generally interested in other people and what they have to say, even if only so that others may be better understood, such people are less likely to find others boring and unpleasant, because there is a pleasure in learning and in growing in understanding, whether one thinks in pragmatic terms or has a genuine joy in self-education and better understanding the world and the people in it. It is when people lack a fondness of us and tend to interpret everything we say in the worst possible way, and when they do not regard our insights as worthwhile or do not have an interest in even knowing our opinions and worldviews when we do not insist on their agreeing with that we have more problems in enjoying the simple company of others.
It is in this sense that we see the failures of the ways we have of learning in our contemporary society. Language is supposed to help us learn, but we use language to keep away people rather than to initiate them into the same sort of understanding that we have. Travel is supposed to help us develop a broader perspective, but we often prefer to travel to places that cater to our own preexisting interests and understanding rather than provide for us puzzles and mysteries to solve and different perspectives to understand and wrestle with. Higher education is supposed to open our minds to new vistas of truth and to the received wisdom of the ages, but instead we find leftist indoctrination and an actual decline in the content and quality of our thinking and reasoning. We could seek out the revealed truth of the Bible, but it only helps us when we come seeking to learn from it and obey it rather than view ourselves as a judge of which of its laws and judgments are obsolete and which are applicable in our times. Everything we could use to better ourselves and improve our own understanding requires us to go outside of ourselves and to wrestle with questions of authority. And if we think if our own prejudices and our own interests and our own approach as the only one that is valid, we will find few ways for us to learn more than simply to be more unpleasant versions of our existing selves, because we have shut our eyes and hardened our ears to anything that could speak to us about the need to repent or to consider another point of view.