Our voices can, obviously, be used to communicate. But did you know that, under the right conditions, the sound waves of the human voice are powerful enough to break glass? Though this was once thought to be more of an urban legend than scientific fact, in 2005, on the TV show Mythbusters, the rock singer Jamie Vendera actually broke a crystal glass using only his voice!
Defining the “Breaking Glass Strategy”
The “Breaking Glass Strategy” is a tactic used when one message appears to be communicated, but in reality, the goal of the communication is to break things. To put it another way, the Breaking Glass Strategy is used when the actual words of the message make it sound like we’re have a reasoned discussion, but the real meaning of the interaction is entirely different.
The “Breaking Glass Strategy” in Action
The Breaking Glass Strategy is used in many different formats, but whatever the format, here’s the crucial, essential, don’t-miss-this-point: you can lose ground if you respond to the message itself rather than the underlying strategy.
To make the point clear, let’s look at a few examples of the words that are sometimes employed by people using the Broken Glass Strategy:
- “We have zero tolerance for anyone who is intolerant.”
- “All truth is relative.”
- “Logic is beyond our understanding.”
- “We can never really know what is true.”
- “The limits of language keep us from really understanding one another.”
Because these statements are so crazy, we can easily get confused by how to respond to them.
For instance, the predominant recommendation, in responding to statements like these, is to use various questions or statements to point out how self-contradictory or self-refuting they are. We try to explain that, if, for instance, your stated policy is to be intolerant of intolerance, then you are being rather hypocritical (and also, for the record, lacking in self-awareness). Generally, the goal with these responses is to ‘wake up’ the person we’re talking to in order to move the conversation onto more reasonable terrain.
Fair enough. In most cases, responding directly to the illogical message itself can move people to participate in a far more productive conversation.
Don’t misunderstand my post: that kind of advice is essential, basic training for every thinking Christian. Every follower of Jesus should be actively preparing themselves to dislodge bad thinking with good thinking, to point out contradictions, and to reason well with their friends and colleagues.
We Need to Understand the Agenda
Generally speaking, having a basic trust in the good intentions of others is the way to go. When good intentions are present, we should respond to these self-refuting statements with insightful questions and thoughtful statements.
But we are also called to be ‘wise as serpents and innocent as doves.’
Let’s be honest: sometimes people have crafty, bad intentions.
We have to recognize that we just don’t live in a world where everyone is perfectly rational and open to reasoned dialogue.
Even worse, sometimes people deliberately use the appearance of reasoning in order to accomplish other, non-rational goals.
When The Breaking Glass Strategy is being employed, we need to understand the real goal of the communication: shut up and don’t oppose my agenda.
Why It Works
The Broken Glass Strategy works because it accomplishes two goals at once: it confuses the recipient at the same time that it provides ‘strategic insight’ to the one using it.
You, the recipient, think the issue is confused thinking.
But the person you’re talking to has a different agenda: silencing you in order to better advance their agenda.
Once you respond to their nonsense with a reasoned response, you’ve identified yourself as the opposition. These phrases, and others like them, are deliberately selected precisely because they’re known to be ‘emotional triggers’ for the targeted group of evangelical Christians. (The “Broken Glass Strategy” is used by all kinds of people – manipulative pastors, Christian business leaders, Muslims, agnostics – you name it, we are all capable of distorting language in this way).
A Real Life Example
School administrator: We are totally intolerant of intolerance here.
Teacher: Maybe its just me, but that sounds like a really strange policy. How could we possibly fight intolerance by being deliberately intolerant?
Administrator: [This teacher is clearly a judgmental, bigoted Christian trying to preserve their right to be intolerant of others. I'll be sure they don't get promoted]. Look, the new policy is clear: we’re being intolerant of intolerance. It’s a settled matter.
Teacher: Ok, well, I hear what you’re saying. I just wonder if there’s a better way to build a diverse community, that’s all.
Administrator: I’m sure you do. [You're probably going to try and convert everyone to your point of view. I don't want that kind of competition]. Well, let’s give the new policy a try. See you at the staff meeting later this week.
Conversations like this happen every day. Do you see what happened? The teacher goes home bewildered that someone in charge of education is incapable of basic logic, but the administrator goes home knowing who to silence and displace.
Can you hear the glass shattering?
Perhaps you are asking yourself: Why would anyone want to silence thoughtful, well-prepared Christians who know how to respond to basic logical errors with kindness and insight?
But to ask the question is to answer it: people who have an opposing worldview would be sure to do exactly that. It is just good strategy. By marginalizing or removing the well-trained Christian leaders, it becomes that much easier to influence and ‘convert’ the immature Christians to other agendas.
This isn’t right. Or fair. Or kind. Or particularly tolerant.
But it is happening. So, if you are a thoughtful Christian, who wishes to graciously share the love of Jesus, you need to be prepared for these special circumstances.
Responding to the Broken Glass Strategy
To respond to the Broken Glass Strategy, you need to make a number of decisions.
First, you need to assess the motives of the person you’re speaking to. Good intentions, friendly conversation? Be winsome, be friendly, and as you have the opportunity, gently point out the logical errors. Bad intentions, professional conversation? Be careful.
Second, you need to decide what’s at stake. Who has the power? If you are ‘outed’ as one of those old-fashioned people who thinks we can know what’s true and use language to reason with one another, what are the consequences? Loss of funding? Denied tenure? No more invitations to certain social events?
Your assessment might lead you to quit your job or find a new role in the company or choose a different set of friends. While that’s okay, and may be appropriate, we have to recognize that this just means the strategy worked before it even started: in that environment, you’ve been silenced and displaced. Threat removed. Opposing agendas can advance more easily.
Third, you need to recognize what’s going on. This requires both humility and confidence – paranoia is counter-productive, but burying-our-heads-in-the-sand is equally foolish. The aim is a moderate, sensible discernment.
In a company or in the academy, the real activity might be a quasi-political organizing. Votes are being counted. People are being identified. Those on the inside track are getting their plans together, but those on the outside don’t even realize that anything is going on. “Pray for me, because I’m really hoping that Janie will come to see how her position doesn’t make any logical sense.” No, that won’t do. You have to decide to bring people together, form a positive vision for the organization going forward, and find a way to identify who you can count on. Your goal is dramatically different: “Pray for me, because we’re trying to see that our department isn’t taken over by people who actively target and discriminate against Christians.”
In a social context, it might be who gets into the fraternity or sorority, or who gets invited out for drinks after work, or who participates in the weekend getaway. Find ways to respond to these seemingly innocuous statements in a way that demonstrates a Jesus-style acceptance of those far from God.
- “Yea, intolerance is really bad. My faith really inspires me to overcome discrimination with love.”
- “You’re right – language is tricky and sometimes words do seem to confuse rather than clarify what’s going on.”
- “When you consider how different everyone’s ideas are, relativism can seem to be the best way to get along with one another. Personally, when I think about all the different perspectives in our world today, I just want to find ways to help people get along with each other.”
The general idea is to look for the place of mutual affirmation. Your goal is to build trust and avoid getting boxed into a negative stereotype.
Fourth, you need to decide if (and when) to call out the strategy for what it is. You’ll need to make a measured decision with trusted friends about the pros and cons of vocally, publicly and explicitly opposing the Broken Glass Strategy. Make sure you can clearly identify the issue, are prepared to respond to obfuscating responses (often accompanied by accusations that you are perpetuating discrimination), and know what you will accomplish by doing so.
Christians are called to be a people of hope. We trust in Jesus, who conquered the worst schemes of the Evil One and overcame the power of sin and death. We trust that following Him is the best path, whatever the short-term consequences happen to be. We are grounded in His love for us, which fills us with a humble confidence to live with integrity and love.
We are called to be a people of love – to love our neighbors and our enemies, our friends and those who oppose our presence and our practices. Revenge, bitterness, and malice are not the tools we use, because they intensify the problems that Jesus has called us to solve. We offer an uncommon forgiveness and grace towards others even as we courageously stand for what is good and true.
When you recognize the Broken Glass Strategy, may you experience encouragement and wisdom from God as you work to find a loving and appropriate response.
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