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I’m in the Choir. Preach to Me.

We hear this piece of complaint, or advice, or admonishment, depending on the circumstances, quite a bit: “Don’t just preach to the choir.” It’s a bit ironic particularly in skeptical circles where many of us have left the types of organizations that have choirs. I consider myself part of the choir of skepticism and science. And sometimes, I just need a good old fashioned preaching to.

I’m on the train back home after a weekend in Chicago at ChiFi. Except for some lovely panels with Farscape’s Gigi Edgely, I spent the entire weekend at Skepchick-related events. Jamie Bernstein put on a fabulous weekend of programming on all kinds of skeptical topics, and I was excited to be a part of various “The Science of…” panels. I also stuck around to hear my friends discuss other topics, things like “Skepticism and Philosophy” and “Science and Art.”

These are not new topics to me. Again, I’m the choir. I’ve been around the skeptical block. I even had some Mad Art Labbers on my Learning Space show specifically to talk about the intersection of art and science. I came away with a few new facts and tips, but mostly, it was a rejuvenation. This weekend was a replenishment of my inspiration and love for communicating science and skepticism. Watching friends, acquaintances, and colleagues talk about the same topics I’ve hear before was by no means a waste of my time, but instead a nice refreshing reminder of why I love to talk about these topics.

It’s all too easy to let the passion slip away in the daily grind. The last few months of my life have been especially hectic, and I’m looking forward to some professional changes in the near future. In the chaos, I’ve been feeling like I was on auto-pilot, losing my inspiration to teach and communicate. This can happen, and probably does happen, to all of us at some point.

So yes, it is important to reach new audiences with your messages. And yes, it’s productive and stimulating to get beyond the “101” level of a topic of discussion and delve into the deeper issues and nuances. But sometimes, it’s important to energize your base. That’s why I’m not so worried about preaching to the choir every once in a while. There’s no need to despair when your audience comes back week after week, right?

So thank you to those of you who helped rekindle my passion for exploring and spreading the word of science and skepticism out there. I treasure the safe places we make to ask questions and listen to each other. And I sure as hell love geeking out with you all.

Nicole

Nicole

Nicole is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at a small liberal arts college. Her home on the internet can be found at One Astronomer's Noise.

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5 Comments

  1. March 22, 2015 at 11:43 pm —

    This was my experience of the weekend as well. Rejuvenating is a good word!

  2. March 23, 2015 at 8:46 am —

    This was the very first event of its kind for me and it was amazing how welcoming and energizing and FUN the weekend was!

    As for “preaching to the choir”, back in the days of his Air America show, Senator Al Franken responded to accusations of preaching to the choir by pointing out that the other side does it all the time and it is damn effective. It is how they rally their base politically, how they keep them engaged, energized and on message. There is no reason we can’t use this power for good rather than evil!

  3. March 23, 2015 at 9:13 am —

    I think you got it exactly right: preaching to the choir is fine once in a while, and preaching to non-choir is important.

    So, “Don’t just preach to the choir”.

  4. March 23, 2015 at 6:50 pm —

    Of course sometimes the choir needs to be preached to–especially in a live setting like the event you went to. Online, though, it seems like the balance is way too far in that direction. I think this essay at Slate Star Codex makes the argument beautifully: http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/04/15/the-cowpox-of-doubt

  5. April 9, 2015 at 8:19 pm —

    Interesting way to put that. It’s important to build community not only to help us live our values but to explore them. Thanks for that post.

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