Good Question: How to deal with the "Nerd" Factor
The question came up in class about how to stimulate interest or find a point of 'contact' with individuals whose cognitive lives seem to be lived (at least at the office) in extreme distance from the felt needs of humanity. The seeming personal detachment from social disclosure, emotions, and questions of meaning that is part of the stereotype of 'nerds' or 'geeks', creates a aura of unapproachability concerning spiritual matters. What I would like to offer here are a couple of perspectives and suggestions for working alongside these people.
Many of these people would be classified as Obsessive-Compulsive (not necessarily to the "disorder" level, though!). The psychological profile of this type of person includes a very important element--the extreme need to feel safe. Part of the reason people develop OC lifestyles is to be able to control their environment. The more facts they know, the more control they have--both over the situations involving those facts, and over people who would theoretically use some factual advantage to 'hurt them' through embarrassment or intimidation.
The OC type often lives in fear of embarrassment by those more 'socially skilled' than they. They tend to feel alone inside (when reflective), and find a sense of belonging when discussing technical matters with those they feel to be 'equally disadvantaged' socially. There is a safety hanging out (which means living in the wolrd of specialized facts) with others who are afraid of the same things. [They are not alone in this, believe me, for all the other personality profiles have their problems, too--just different kinds.]
They must be approached with a deep, deep sensitivity to this fear of embarrassment.
We will consider two scenarios here: (1) when they would consider you 'one of them' (i.e., nerd-like); and (2) when they would consider you 'different' (and therefore able to hurt them).
I. When they would count you as "one of them":
A. You can try a clean 'drop off' approach, to get it started:
"Poindexter, you probably know that I have been trying to follow Jesus Christ for the last X years, but may also have guessed that I am not particularly comfortable talking about such personal matters openly with others. But this area IS deeply important to me, and one I really WOULD like to share with my close associates, so I wanted to at least give you this book/URL/paper I wrote/tape. You MAY be enough like to feel uncomfortable talking much about this "spiritual" area, too, but its important enough for you to evaluate in private...so, here <hand them, send them, attach it, etc.>...If you have any questions on this stuff, just ask me--it might be one of the questions I have too, and I can tell you what I have found out from research...and, as I find other sites/books/ stuff that I think you might find interesting or challenging, I'll let you know..."
B. But make sure you have been ID'ing yourself as a Christian all along, so that its not a HUGE shock.
C. Depending on your style and credibility with the person, you might can use self-referential terms to "defuse" some of the weirdness:
"But, hey, what would I know?!--I'm the religious fanatic, remember"
"But, hey, what would I know?!--I'm the guy who uses SPARC chips to do bible research, remember"
D. Remember the Little Drummer Boy perspective:
"Francine, I feel really good about my logic design on this controller. I know my good-hearted God enjoys beauty and excellence, and I think He would like this. I may not be a preacher, or missionary, or any of those traditional 'religious jobs', but I know I can honor His call to excellence by doing good embedded logic work! It's like the Little Drummer Boy song--"I have no gifts to bring, but I'll play my drum for Him"...
E. The 'reflective' question:
"Yeah, I guess I have been a bit more 'subdued' than normal...I just read/heard/thought/attended a lecture at church about the big picture and it got me re-evaluating my purpose and future yet again... how about you? How long has it been since you backed up and re-evaluated these issues of purpose, God, helping others?"
Or..."how frequently do you back up and re-think..."
F. Some use the Argument from Design (Anthropic Principle) to start this:
a. "And I thought I WAS a good designer! Good grief, I am reading this book about the fine-tuning of the universe, required for human life to exist--and its blowing me away...have you heard about this Anthropic Principle yet?"
b. But watch out, it might get you entangled in issues of evolution too quickly, and you need a way to disentangle the two issues: "Actually, biological fine-tuning is a sub-set of this issue, and there are good Christians at all points of the "Sudden creation-Progressive Creation-Programmed Evolution-Guided Randomness" spectrum...but the physics aspects are getting most of the scientific attention nowadays..."
G. When the conversation turns to non-specialist, 'value-type' controversial topics:
"I don't know, folks...I used to have a very firm opinion on that, but since getting involved with the Lord some X years ago, my perspectives have started shifting, so I am not sure WHAT I believe about that anymore..."
H. When you complimented for 'knowing so much':
"Thanks for the kudos! Its good to know I know a little something about SOME AREA! I may know a lot about IPsec, but I am woefully ignorant of vast vistas of human experience (humpht and shake head)...but fortunately, I have learned to 'outsource' knowledge and direction in THOSE areas to Someone with a larger database and perspective! (smiling, and pointing up)...but thanks for the kudos!"
I. Making 'light' contact on project work:
(During a break) "Horace, I've been working non-stop with you on this device driver for 6 weeks now, and I haven't even asked you about your family or background? Are you married? Do you have kids? What did you study in school? Are you religious? Were you RAISED religious? What're your long term goals?..." and often, it will come back to a comment from them: "What about you?"
II. When you are in the "different" (other) camp...
A. The following "need not apply":
2. known to tease in public
3. suspected to gain self-importance by putting others down
B. Sober, quiet, private styles work best--the gentle servant-heart--but probing can easily become too invasive for these dear hearts.
C. Always show respect up front, with a legitimate compliment on their work or skill
D. Crisis can build private commonality, but watch out for 'pity' overtones
E. Deep, emotional, personal disclosures are threatening--they create pressure to respond (when the OC often doesn't know the 'rules' for this--read 'fear'!) and/or to reciprocate...
F. The fact that God knows all the facts that they DON'T know (and that YOU don't know) can be a useful and shared perspective. This requires you to admit ignorance about the same things THEY are ignorant of (many bigger picture items).
G. Asking their opinion on a pro-Christian book/argument generally won't work--they often assume that they have to find some fault in ANY argument, in order to add value, stay 'distanced', and/or maintain "face" and status (oppositional thinkers, so they don't get tricked by those superior people)
H. You must level the perceived difference they assume between your 'self confidence' (!) and their internal lack of it. Admissions of legitimate weakness, sharing experiences of extreme social awkwardness, a 'bloopers' confession-session, the "3 biggest mistakes I ever made in my job" coffee disclosure, and the like will help them move you out of "other" and closer to (but not inside) the "like me" category. Once there, you might be able to have something like:
"Wallace, you probably know that I have been trying to follow Jesus Christ for the last X years, but you may have already heard from others that I am not particularly "talented" at talking about such personal matters... For some reason, I still tend to make people nervous when I talk about my Lord, and I alienate them in spite of my attempts otherwise...I don't understand it...But this area IS deeply important to me, and one I really WOULD like to share with the people I work with, so I wanted to at least give you this book/URL/paper I wrote/tape. If I tried EXPLAINING it to you, I would probably embarrass myself again, but maybe this way will be better...Its important enough for all of us to evaluate in private...so, here...If you have any questions on this stuff, just ask me--it might be one of the questions I have too, and I can tell you what I have found out so far from research, or put you in contact with some scholar types...and, as I find other sites/books/ stuff that I think you might find interesting or challenging, I'll let you know...sorry if this makes you nervous, but it is something I feel quite strongly about...Oh, by the way, how is the progress on the new wireless compression algorithm coming? What the current approach on solving the Fresnell issue?"