Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

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How To Dialogue

November 30th, 2010, Promulgated by Ben Anderson

There was a good article in First Thing’s “On the Square” yesterday about dialoguing with an inquirer.  David Mills writes specifically about answering written questions, but much of his points apply generally to most any situation.  Here’s the link and some snips:

http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2010/11/i-was-ignorant-and-you-taught-me

First, not all questions need or deserve an answer, but you can only sometimes discern the cases in which a tactful silence, a gentle non-answer, or a rebuke is best. Sometimes rudeness masks a serious search and wide-eyed openness hides a desire only for endless discussion or for trapping you into writing something on which they can leap.

For this reason, never rebuke or confront even the most obnoxious inquirer, unless you know him well enough to judge that you can fruitfully do so. Many people often write (or speak) much more rudely than they mean to because they have no idea how their words sound to others, and those who mean to be rude will not respond well to being rebuked. Answer them as if they had written politely. If they didn’t mean to be rude, this will encourage them to keep talking. If they meant to be rude, this will either convert them or annoy them. Both have their uses.

The manner of your answer will affect your inquirer more than its content. You are often, as far as you can tell, trying only to encourage him to hear the answer, to open a crack in his defenses that might over time open into a door. Hope and pray that you are only one—perhaps the first, but perhaps not—in a series of encounters that will bring him to see the truth. You do not need to win the argument to change his life.

Third, concede as much as you can, particularly about the practical matters. Many people seem to think that if they have found an example of failure or hypocrisy they have proved whatever point they are making and disproved yours. Admitting that the Church has failed directs the writer back to the more crucial questions of principle.


Seventh, in most cases do not challenge sweeping generalizations, no matter how daft. This will be a constant problem, because so many people think in generalizations and some of them are daft. Most popular generalizations are true enough that you cannot easily disprove them or even qualify them, and anything you say against it will be met either by more generalizations or by mountains of evidence for it, much of it dubious but also very hard to disprove.

Tenth, pray for the person who has asked you for help [or condemned you and your blog], especially before writing your answer and before mailing it [or writing a comment on a blog!], and then read it over one last time before mailing. For one thing, the prayer may help you respond with more patience, for many inquirers can be extraordinarily annoying, and even if they are kindness itself their serious questions may expose to you your own ignorance and sins, which is also annoying even if it’s also good for you.

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