Elephants in the room
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.
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.
Race matters more to minorities, because it impacts their lives more. Religion is important to the pious. Politics matters to the political. How can create better relations, if you can't listen to people about what matters to them? If your relationship is so hollow that it can't handle disagreements, then it wasn't much of a relationship, and you aren't much of a friend.
Gains and losses
Of course you can only be open with people you can afford to lose. Those who can't say, "I don't agree with you, but I like you anyways", need more practice at being open minded. And that's a service I try to provide.
So I've lost more than a few friends to disagreements. I've gotten death threats, people being petty (verbally or even physically attacking me, some tried to sabotage me in my job, or personal relationships). But most of the friends I lost weren't because we disagreed; but because they don't understand what it takes to be a good friend. 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 expecting me to do for them. Thus the ones that remain are better than the ones that left.
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