Don’t Chase The Rabbit

by Michael C. Sherrard

If a situation requires undivided attention, it will occur simultaneously with a compelling distraction.   -Hutchinson’s Law

You must learn to not chase rabbits. In case this expression is lost on you, I mean to say that you must learn to stay on topic. Conversations easily wander. Typically, thinking is not linear. People are easily distracted, and the mind likes to follow whatever shiny new idea that enters its domain.

However, to be effective in talking about weighty and potentially confusing subjects like God, effective communication requires you to be able to focus on one topic long enough to say something meaningful.

Conversations wander naturally on their own, but they also are purposely taken off course. This is known in logic as a red herring. In nature, a herring is a fish that gains a reddish color when it is smoked, along with a very strong smell. Because of its smell, red herrings are very good at masking other smells. It is said that a red herring would be dragged across a trail by criminals and hunters alike to create a false trail that dogs would follow. Thus, by analogy, the phrase came to be used to describe any false trail.

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Now, conversations usually don’t have smelly fish that distract you. They do, however, have things similar. In the attempt to win an argument, people will use random facts and stories that are completely irrelevant in order to divert you from the original topic or question you have been discussing. They create, in a sense, a false trail, a red herring, for you to follow.

I remember a time I was talking with a woman about the nature of truth and out of nowhere she explodes with a story about “crazed” Christians blowing up abortion clinics. She then explained how judgmental and “mental” Christians were. In her mind, there may have been a connection between the existence of truth and supposed Christians blowing up abortion clinics. If there was, it never came out. This was mainly because I didn’t follow that false trail. I didn’t chase the rabbit.

When you start to notice someone changing topic, it is your job to bring him back to what you originally were talking about. Don’t chase after every topic that a skeptic dangles in front of you. Rather, stay focused and lead the way back to your original conversation. You can do it simply by saying something like, “I agree that Christians, or anyone for that matter, shouldn’t blow up an abortion clinic, but let’s keep talking about truth.” A redirect as simple as this usually works…

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