This. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard variations of this statement, especially in regard to homeschooling. The phrase comes up when we homeschool moms are trying to explain ourselves to well-intended relatives who question our decision to homeschool, our curriculum, our lifestyle, and more. It also comes up when homeschool moms are trying to talk to each other. I hear this a lot in the Charlotte Mason and classical community: How can I possibly explain what I’m doing and why when it’s just so different from what people are used to?
I have a proposed solution, but first, what my solution can’t do:
It can’t make you brave.
What I mean is, sometimes it’s not that we can’t explain ourselves; it’s that we’re afraid of what will happen if we reveal to people our true thoughts on the subject. Maybe they will be angry with us? We can’t bear it. Maybe they will say something in return that causes us to doubt ourselves? It’s unnerving.
In order to be courageous, we have to believe that the thing we are doing is more important than we are. If speaking the truth on a subject isn’t my top priority (and self-preservation is), I’m never going to have honest conversations with people. Instead, I’ll remain silent and let them believe whatever they want about me and what I believe. I have to be willing to take the risk that the person I’m talking to will decide I’m insane, a hater, or whatever.
Telling the truth is not about ME. Acknowledging this is the first step to being brave enough to tell the truth out loud.
Please don’t get me wrong: the Bible tells us not to cast pearls before swine for a reason. Being brave enough to speak up does not translate into having to defend yourself to everyone in the whole world, nor does it mean you have to entertain every conversation possible.
But most people making an honest inquiry, or making statements that reveal an honest misunderstanding, aren’t swine. And really, when we say we wish we could explain ourselves better, we’re already admitting that we want to have the conversation. But when given the opportunity, we chicken out for some reason.
If the reason is that you don’t exactly know how to have the conversation, I think I can help.
It won’t make you make the time.
Sometimes, we don’t have good conversations because we aren’t making the time. There’s an opportunity to have a good conversation — someone says something that opens the door — but then it’s so close to time to leave. I have other things to do.
I don’t have time to talk about this right now.
And then life just sort of carries on and the opportunity is lost and forgotten.
Making good conversations a priority might be inconvenient. Inconveniences, by definition, crunch our time and our energy. They might mean dinner is late that night, or less sleep happens.
But then, think about how lonely it can be without good conversations in our lives. If we never takes risks, our relationships don’t develop their full potential. Staying on the surface of things is convenient, but it’s not rich.
Again, I don’t think saying we’re willing to be inconvenienced by honest conversations means we have to entertain every opportunity that arises. That’s a wisdom call.
But too often we miss the chance for camaraderie with other homeschool moms because we don’t make the time to converse about important things.
If you don’t have the time when an opportunity shows itself, ask for a rain check. Can you get coffee next week? Can you talk on Voxer? Is there a way to connect later, rather than letting it go?
No matter how well-developed our explanations become, we still have to discipline ourselves to make time for deeper conversations.
It can’t make up for lack of practice.
The ability to explain ourselves is distinct from rhetoric training, the end result of which is knowing the best thing to say, the best time to say it, and the best way to say it. Scripture tells us that a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Let’s take a moment to think about this word: fitly.
We rarely talk in our culture about something being “fitting” because we’re consumed with the idea that everyone should just accept everyone else exactly as they are. If you’re offended, that’s your problem.
But there is an art to good conversation, regardless of whether our culture acknowledges this or not. It takes practice to learn the delicate dance of human interaction. How do we learn to speak the truth, but in love? How do we learn when to listen and when to speak? How do we learn when the perfect joke can lighten up a heavy conversation? How we we discover what is fitting for each individual interaction?
Much of the time, we learn these things from trial and error. I have a hard conversation in high school, let’s say. It doesn’t go well. Ideally, I learn from that. In the next conversation, I do a little bit better than before.
If we practice staying silent, that’s all we become good at. If you want better conversations, you have to be willing to make mistakes and learn from them. It’s only in practicing conversation that we can grow in our skills.
There are times when someone says something, and we freeze up. It is only through practice in more difficult conversations that we can train ourselves to defrost our brains and regroup.
Knowing how to explain ourselves won’t make up for lack of practice in dealing with the difficult nuances of conversing.
So what can my proposed solution do?
My theory is that we don’t have a true deficit of being able to explain ourselves or defend ourselves. We simply haven’t thought about the issues enough. We don’t know what to say because our thoughts aren’t fully formed.
We have baby thoughts.
Baby thoughts are wonderful, but they aren’t the kind of thoughts we can easily express to others. Baby thoughts haven’t learned to speak yet. They need to grow and mature.
My theory is that if we can come to a better understanding of what we truly believe about what we are doing — why we are homeschooling, what education is, and why we are choosing to live our lives in these particular ways — if we’ve really thought it out, we’ll be better able to explain ourselves.
The bottom line is that we can’t articulate what we don’t really know.
This summer, I want to invite you to come to know more deeply, more fully — to come to the place where you have a better answer for what you are doing and why.
Let me invite you to Consider the Cause.
Back in January, I spontaneously taught a group a teachers about Aristotle’s Four Causes and applied them to education (using Charlotte Mason, of course) because I suspected it would help them learn to think through their philosophy more efficiently. It went well, so I taught it again another place and time, and then again, and I realized that this basic framework is a way to fast-track our philosophical thinking.
In the Consider the Cause sessions, I’ll be teaching this method of philosophical thinking and discovery in more depth than ever before, and you’ll get a chance to learn to do this sort of thinking independently through the detailed guidebook Amanda Faus is putting together (and will be present to explain in depth).
In session one, I’ll teach you about each cause and explain how to use it to develop yourself philosophically, and then Amanda will teach you about how the guidebook helps you go through these steps on paper in real time. In session two, Amanda and I will answer as many questions as we can so that you are able to walk away with a plan for thinking deeply.
My motivation is not to help people skip the hard work and time investment just for the sake of making life easier. It’s not about being lazy. It’s that we don’t have the luxury of time, do we? We’re doing this thing right now. And people are asking us questions right now.
We need a ready defense. And we need to be able to share the truth in love because that is how our numbers grow.
Don’t think of these conversations as confrontations. Difficult conversations need to be viewed as struggling toward truth together. It’s possible that you are midwifing the birth of the person across from you into her own baby philosophy. It’s possible you’re helping your future community be born.
Go register for the Consider the Cause live workshops. We’ll help you better explain yourself to yourself, so that you can better explain yourself to others. Learn to think this way, and you’ll find the door to deeper, richer conversations is suddenly wide open.
Get the (almost) weekly digest!
Weekly encouragement, direct to your inbox, (almost) every Saturday.