A couple of people have asked me to comment on the fact that they do not know how to talk about issues such as their own personal growth and/or the nature of spirituality. When they do, when they talk about how important these issues are to them, and how much they personally have been changed in these issues, other people either look away, move away, or are derisive of them in some fashion.
Not surprising! When I was young, the topics to avoid were politics and sex. But in the complexity of our modern world, the new topics to avoid seem to be personal growth and spirituality (while talking about sex or politics is common, although usually superficial).
But why? I suggest it is because others are threatened — they are somehow aware that something important is missing in their lives, but they don’t want to know it. Otherwise, they would want to do something about it, and they don’t know what to do! They will be confronted with an option glut of possibilities, most of which are likely superficial or false in their claims.
So, this post is about my thoughts on what to do so that you can talk about these issues. Please note that I do not have complete answers, but I have given the topic a lot of thought as to how I respond here. I also suggest that personal growth and spirituality are essentially cognates of the same thing, and thus I will link them in this post. As an example of this, the major definition of love that I use comes from Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled (1978-2003): the will to extend oneself for spiritual growth — spirit and growth linked.
What follows is rather heady, so translate it into your own language.
First, and more important, don’t talk — demonstrate that in some profound way you have changed. Actions speak louder than words.
Second, and almost as important, proceed slowly — this is dangerous ground. You are challenging scientific materialism, the dominant ontology of the Western world, and if fact, for most people, the only paradigm of which they are aware. Scientific materialism operates from the two assumptions that 1) only the material world exists, and 2) only science can provide truth about the world (the world, not just the material world). And you are entering into areas that take years of study to do justice to them.
Scientism is the assumption that the only valid manner of seeking truth is by the scientific method. Personal growth and spirituality both challenge this latter assumption — the truths gained are not subject to analysis; even if they were, the objectification obscures the fact of how important these processes are to the individual.
So, how to challenge. I would start by one-on-one conversations (group conversations are subject to the participants being scorned by the most vociferous dissenter of the group, usually the individual who is most self-righteous and most trapped in scientific materialism). When you find an opportunity to talk about the importance of these issues to yourself, do so in simple language, perhaps a comment like “That does not make sense to me.” When they present the usual “science” or “neuroscience,” ask a question: “Are you aware that what you are saying is only an assumption?” You will probably get a blank look, in that they have never given it any thought, we are so trapped in scientific materialism. But at least, you can introduce the possibility that scientific materialism is not the only worldview. (See my book Acedia, The Darkness Within, pp. 85-94, if you want a more complete discussion of the philosophy of consciousness.)
Specifically with spirituality, you can point out that, from the 14th century onwards, science simply offered more accurate answers of the material world, but it did not prove that the older models of spirit were wrong, just simply not as accurate in this domain of matter-energy. The way I usually put it is that, “in the Christian Bible, Paul talks about powers and principalities beyond our knowing. Science did not prove this false; it merely passed out of fashion because the scientific method was very successful in explaining the world.” (I’m being very careful with my words there.) Then drop the subject; only continue if the listener asks for more.
Specifically with personal growth, you can point out how difficult it is to talk about the subject, that very few areas in life teach the skills of wisdom, and that even though you yourself are just on the beginning of glimpsing how to make wiser choices, your life is still changing for the better. Again, then drop the subject; only continue if the listener asks for more.
Proceed cautiously from there. I suggest you think of three scenarios, and imagine the conversations pertaining to each. Keep them simple. Keep them such that you leave the listener in doubt, questioning the basis of what they believe. At a later time, re-start the conversation, e.g., “I was thinking about our earlier conversation.” Then add another simple piece, like “It seems to me that there is a way of thinking about …”
You can change your world; I did!