Elephants in the room

Summary

Why do I talk sex, politics, religion, ethics, race, and so on? Because it’s there! It makes us better as individuals and society, to rub against each other, abrade each other, smooth off the rough edges, and learn to tolerate each other and grow. Two rocks in the tumbler, that don’t necessarily like the experience, but come out smoother and more polished because of it. 


Details

People have asked me why I’m so willing talk about politics, philosophical, religion, and so on. Why don’t I just stick to things I know?

Ignoring that people aren’t one-dimensional creatures, to me, it is by expressing opinions, and having them challenged, that we learn. And how else do we teach or change the culture? 
 
Society has gotten so politically correct that they avoid discussing the issues that really matter to people (because it might offend someone); ignoring that not talking about it prevents people from bonding and learning to understand each other better. So we have these taboos against issues like politics, race, religion, ethics, sex, or other things that people really care about — but that puts up the garden walls, and prevents people from interacting at a level that’s beyond the superficial. That works for some cultures (like Japan), in their own way. But I prefer our culture because it is NOT about how to be civil and coexist in the short term, but because it forces people to coexist with each other, despite their flaws, and how to really tolerate and celebrate each other in the long term. 

So for me, the harm to society in not discussing these issues, far outweighs the benefits of false-harmony and artificial civility. So I don’t challenge every norm, just because it’s there. But neither will I avoid talking about things that are important to me, on the off chance that someone might be offended. Their offense is their problem. And if they don’t learn to get over being offended, how will they learn to understand the other side and learn and grow as human beings? 

I don’t want a society of delicate little snowflakes trying not to melt at every warm breeze. But one that has thick enough skin to disagree with someone, without having to be butt-hurt all the time. 

Examples

Race often matters more to "people of color" (non European Whites), because it impacts their lives more (they aren’t the majority). So should we/they have to avoid uncomfortable differences in perception, or just get over it, chat and give each other enough room to be wrong in life?  

The same with religious people I’ve known. This is a topic that matters to them, and less me (since I’m a atheist). But instead of discounting their opinions or ostracizing them as fanatics or Bible thumpers, by talking we can understand a bit more about each other, and get past it. 

Politics is the same. Throw your views out, let them do the same — learn to discuss without getting personal. Give them time to air their views, and expect enough to do the same. Sometimes you get a better idea of each others views, others they leave in a huff (because they can’t handle polite truths that challenge their world views). But if they were such hollow relationships that they couldn’t handle disagreements, then they weren’t of much value anyways.

Gains and losses

Of course you can only be open with people you can afford to lose as friends. But also, those who you’re willing to proclaim, I don’t agree with you, but I like you (and will put up with you) anyways. Those that can’t do that, need to practice it more — and that’s the service I try to provide. 

So I’ve lost more than a few friends to disagreements. I’ve gotten death threats, and people being petty, to try to attack me for our differences (sabotage me in my job, or personal relationships). But most of the friends I lost weren’t because we disagreed; but because they couldn’t be good friends, and offer what they demanded (sensitivity towards their views/feelings). Thus, "losing them" was actually winning: life’s way of teaching me who I can/can’t trust, and who is willing to put up with my bullshit, in the same way they’re asking for me to do for them. Thus the ones that remain are better than the ones that left. 

Conclusion

Humans bond through shared experiences and communications. Dodging the delicate issues prevents that closeness/sharing. So while it is a little crass to discuss charged issues, and you’ll burn a few bridges, the ones you have left will be much stronger and worthy of your travel. 

Most of all, you made the world a better place. You helped tolerant people be heard (if you offered reciprocity), and you let the intolerant people choose to go away (and lose the benefits of what it means to be your friend). Thus, society got a little bit better, by what Ross Perot describes as, "being the grain of sand, that irritates the oyster, into making the Pearl".  Talking about elephants in the room, is the abrasive that can be the irritant and the polish, at the same time. 

Written: 2002.12.05
Edited: 2015.12.27