Generation Y is a generation that asks “Why?”
If we can’t answer this basic question, if we can’t intelligently, patiently, and lovingly communicate reasonably and convincingly the meaning, importance, and purpose of something, they will go somewhere else to find answers to the many “why” questions they have. Here are a few answers that don’t work as well as they used to:
1. “Because I’m older than you and know more.”
What this communicates to them is either: I don’t have the time to explain this to you properly or I don’t have the ability to explain this to you properly. The first message shows that if we don’t have the time then it’s probably not that important. The second message shows that we probably don’t really understand what we’re trying to say. If something was really important and if something was something we really understood, it would be worth taking the time to study, learn about, and apply. Another reason why this doesn’t work as well is that history shows us that many if not most of the world’s ground-breaking ideas have come from relatively young people trying to reconcile with a status quo that didn’t make sense. Christians should not be surprised by this because Jesus, the person we’re all supposed to be striving to be like, was 30 when His world-challenging ministry started, and was crucified by 33. That means He was my age and made all that impact in 3 years. Imagine if He was intimidated by the older Caiaphas or took the political advice of more experienced Pilate simply because they were older.
Instead, I’ve found, it’s more effective to say, “What do you think about this?” inviting them to share their own perspective, then following it up with “Have you ever considered this?”, or “How about this idea?” This allows me to still influence their thinking through discussion not ramming MY thinking down. This is especially important with older young people who not only desire to be respected but actually have respectable achievement. This also communicates two things: I want you to think and formulate your own ideas, and I’m open to considering your ideas.
2. Because the Bible says so.
Every time someone quotes the Bible, or says some principle or “bible-based” idea, I like to look at the referenced verse and study its meaning and context for myself, and this is not because I’m rebellious or unteachable, but because I’m truly seeking truth. A person that wants to understand a principle deeply is not necessarily a rebel. In the same way, a person who humbly and teachably accepts things told to him is not necessarily a wise person. It’s also very possible that he is a fool. This is why many unjust, irrational, and even evil things have been committed by “decent” people in the name of religious beliefs – because they didn’t go deeper than what they were told. To penalize or resent someone for asking why is to encourage ignorance and discourage wisdom. When we penalize the seeking of wisdom because of religion what we end up with are religious fools who are irrelevant at best, and worse, stifling with pressures to follow norms that aren’t even correctly interpreted, and worst, destructive when violently enforcing wrong theology. If the Bible really says something wise, and if we really understand what it says, we should be secure enough to explain the source and reasoning.
Instead, see questions, inquiries, and even debates as opportunities to answer the “why” question. The honest truth is, many of these conversations do not end in agreement. How can they if both parties are entering the exercise with the idea of defending their idea? It can’t and it won’t. Now if we want other people to be open to our ideas but remain closed to their ideas, we exhibit closed-mindedness instead of wisdom. Young people love learning and they love sharing and hearing ideas, but they hate hearing it from people who are closed-minded and burdensome. Take the question and use it, if not to reach agreement, to build trust and earn respect from the clarity of your ideas and the respectability of your manner.
3. “Because that’s the way things have always been done.”
Similar to the cop-outs above, this is an answer that doesn’t lead to understanding. To do things simply because that’s the way they’ve always been done means to simply do things out of inherited tradition. The problem with this is we can go through the motions of the traditions yet actually have no foundation of the significance of the very traditions we’re practicing. Practicing empty traditions is exactly that – empty. What type of results can we expect from people who are simply going with the flow of traditions without understanding? What if the way things have always been done is wrong? Should we not challenge it? What if the way things have always been done is stifling and oppressive? Should we not remove it? What if the way things have always been done is wasteful or ignorant or destructive? The simple reality is that, to thrive, we must constantly be challenging the way things are done, not for the sake of challenging, but for the sake of improvement. To explain things to this generation by saying, “That’s how things have always been done.” is to teach them how to be mediocre and irrelevant.
“I don’t know. Let me study it and get back to you.”
I’ve found this to be one of the best answers I can give, especially when talking to a more informed person. (Note: I said “a more informed person” not necessarily “a wiser person”, because they’re not the same thing.) This and other variations like, “I didn’t think about that. Let me consider that. I’ll get back to you.” or “That’s an interesting way to put things. Let me give it some thought and I’ll get back to you.” help me achieve something during the times that I don’t know – which is actually a lot of the time.
It’s ok to realize you don’t know. That’s actually a good thing. Now you know what you need to study and research. But it’s not ok to remain ignorant. It’s ok to be challenged by a thought, by an incident, or an idea, and but it’s NOT ok to NOT apply more rigorous study and NOT be more proactive about learning. Even the book of Proverbs says to seek after wisdom.
And it’s definitely NOT ok to have a superficial understanding of something and enforce it like a master. Doing this will inevitably mislead others.
This is why having the humility to say, “I don’t know. Let me study it and get back to you.” is important. First, it sets us up for further learning because we’ve admitted lack of knowledge but have committed to further understanding. Second, it shows that we’re serious about truth – not just our perspective. Those aren’t always the same thing. Many times they are completely different. There are millions of people who believe that the sun rotates around the Earth. That’s not true at all. But they believe it. So it’s possible that in the same way, a lot of the things we believe in aren’t true, and by being open to disruption, we constantly refine what we understand because what is true will remain when shaken. People who are serious about the truth desire to discover. People who are serious about their perspective desire to dominate.
But even more important to me, it achieve a second thing. It sets me up for further discussion because I committed to “getting back to them with what I studied and learned”. Because the objective isn’t to prove I’m right but to remain in relationship and grow in understanding. What’s the use of a relationship if it reinforces ignorance? Is a relationship healthy if it is foolish and lacks understanding? No. But what is the use of understanding if it alienates those who don’t know it or think differently and causes them to close themselves to truth? We need both understanding and relationship.
We gain understanding by truly considering what others say and studying, even if we don’t conclude in agreement. We strengthen relationship by being able to “keep the conversation going” despite the differences in points of view. And during the times we don’t know, we admit it, and while not capitulating, we go back to prayer, to the Bible, and we study different points of view and apply discernment to refine what we know. That’s fine. You don’t have to know everything right away. No one does. But like I said earlier, it’s NOT ok to remain ignorant.