Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Cause for "Conversion"?

Have you ever found yourself discovering something that makes a difference in your life? Something that, once you embrace it and you decide that “yes, this is something I can relate to” it changes everything that came before and profoundly alters the way that you look at life afterwards? Most people have these experiences many times in their lives. It can be as simple as discovering a new band that speaks to you in a special way and your appreciation for music is changed. It can be discovery of a new hobby or sport. It can be taking on a new career. For many, it can be making a determination to embrace their faith (or completely convert to another one). In fact, that’s the key word in most of these conversations, the idea of “converting” or being a convert.

Many times, we only use this word in the religious sense. A convert in the religious sphere is an easy thing to understand. When someone is born Jewish but later joins the Catholic Church (just using that as an example, no special reason, really) we say that that person is a “convert”. Likewise, my church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) also refers to all new members that were not born into the church as being “converts” when they are baptized. However, I think this term gets underutilized in this light, as it’s not an identity, but a process, and it’s a process that happens in many different places, activities and stages in life.
When we have any doubts, it helps to actually decide what a word means. Thank you, CONVERT is a Latin word based on the word roots CON meaning “to” and VERTERE, meaning “turn around”. Thus, the word Convert implies more than just a change or a modification; it requires a physical interaction, one where a person, entity or thing has to actually do something to make the change.

Many things in my life can be said to be “conversion” moments for me. I consider myself a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even though I was born into the church (I specifically consider myself a religious convert because I made an express decision at the age of 25 to specifically and purposefully life a religious life to the best of my ability). To some, I would really be considered a “reformed” Latter-day Saint, but I actually had to make a legitimate change in life, motivations and actions, a literal turning around, so I think convert still applies.

I am a convert to the sport of snowboarding. I made a conscientious decision to learn to ride, purchase the gear, and practice the sport until I became proficient at it. What’s more, I embraced the lifestyle and ethos of boarding. Now, I did not cease to be a skier in 1994, since I still know how to ski, and I can easily still pick up skis and go down the hill on them if I choose. However, I don’t, mainly because a day on skis is one less day on a snowboard, and frankly, that would make me sad (LOL!).

Some would say I am a convert to the practices of Native American tribes as relates to dancing and the knowledge I have gained concerning them. There is no mistake that I have been motivated to action to learn them, practice them and embrace the messages and inspiration they contain.

I also consider myself in a way a “convert” to the way that I handle my personal finances, in the sense that I do look to and apply principles I have learned from key sources (it almost sounds quasi-religious to say that I am a “Ramsey” follower or a “Tyson” follower, but it’s not a far stretch to say that the principles I have learned from Dave Ramsey and Eric Tyson are the ones I most often espouse and follow when I talk about or manage my own financial life).

Any change that “motivates you unto action” is ultimately one that gives a person a sense of power; it puts you squarely in the driver’s seat. Sometimes these changes can be so powerful and moving, they can be accomplished in a single day. Some, on the other hand, may take time and long periods of actual planning and deliberate execution. Ultimately, you reach a point to where you control the game, and that feeling of control is just plain awesome!

It’s not at all surprising that those of us who have these conversion moments want to share them with others. Of course, we are often disillusioned at times like this because, frankly, not everyone shares the same level of passion or enthusiasm as us about all of the things we are passionate about. This is true even within endeavors we have common ground with others.

Be it snowboarding, religion, The Total Money Makeover, or my irrepressible love of all things Yoko Kanno, I know not to be all that surprised when others look at me like I’m are a lunatic (or more often just politely humor me and my position). I may think what I have discovered is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but other people may be in different places about their habits and actions, whatever they may be. Sharing what we have learned or what we enjoy gets tricky in these spots, and it’s important to understand why. Some things hit people at an intensely personal level, and shake-ups of those paradigms can be deeply unsettling. It’s for this reason I tend to be careful when I talk about religion or personal finance, since it’s something so intensely personal and central to ones identity. I’m much less careful or concerned when I talk about activities, such as sports like snowboarding or activities like listening to music. The closer you get to ones own personal behavior and integrity (meaning what ultimately makes them tick), the harder it becomes to talk about change.

So how does one go about sharing their “conversion”, whatever it may be? J.D. over at “Get Rich Slowly” addressed this when it came to talking to family members about personal finance, but I think these ideas he described (with some tweaks from yours truly) work in all areas where we want to share what we are passionate about, even when it enters a sphere of “personal space” that may not be wholly welcome or desired by others:

First, Lead By Example (or Be the Example). The key take-home from this is that our actions speak way louder than our words do. Practice what you preach, and let others do the same thing. If you are exceptionally happy, successful, uplifted, cheerful, or otherwise engaged and such involvement intrigues others, people are going to ask what you are up to and what you are doing.

Next, Be Open to Answering Questions (but Just the Questions). I know that I am the type of person who, when someone asks what time it is, I tend to explain how a clock works (LOL!). If someone asks you about a hobby or activity you like doing, make a point to answer their question and answer it directly. Don’t assume they want to know more than the question they have asked. Try to be direct and answer just what they have asked. This has two benefits. First, it allows you to be a quick resource for the information they are after, and you can be seen as reliable. Second, this approach usually invites more questions. Again, do your best to answer just the question (don’t be cagey or evasive, but just focus on the questions asked)

Finally, Be Willing To Drop Subtle Hints. When I try to describe snowboarding to friends who don’t ride, I can either run down a list about the reasons I enjoy it, or I can suggest we go up to the snow together and just enjoy the day. Usually, I make it a point to pack an extra board and boots (this is not so effective if the person you are with isn’t the same size, of course). This way, the skier can see what I enjoy about my sport, it may lead to another round of questions, but most importantly, it gives them an immediate opportunity to try it out for themselves if they are so inclined.

Regardless of what we do and regardless of what the topic, activity or lifestyle is, most people don’t want to be “preached to” (well, my experience tells me that most people don’t want that; some do, but they seem to be a very small minority (LOL!) ). We want to feel like we are sharing a conversation with an equal, with a friend, with a colleague, and in that environment, we feel as though we can take to heart what the other person is saying. Whenever “preachy” attitudes or feelings (intended or not) come out, it creates an imbalance. Gone is the mutual respect and attempt at understanding, now it’s a matter of “I’m right and you’re wrong” or “this worked for me, so *you* need to do it this way, too!” Take the time and make the efforts necessary to be an equal to others, and you will not be one who is seen as looking to convert others to your way. Rather, you may find people converting to your approach and efforts on their own. Same desired results, way more enjoyable process :).

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