My blog Muse got inspired last week when I read the phrase “unspoken conversations” somewhere (can’t remember where). Which got me thinking about the “taboo” topics “they” say never to talk about: religion, politics, and sex. But I’m going to posit something different: if we want to work together and co-create a new Path for Humanity, then we MUST talk about these and other topics now. As always, let me explain . . .
After I read “unspoken conversations,” I happened to find (no accidents!) an article entitled “Sex and Politics and Religion (On My!): Three Topics You Aren’t Allowed to Talk About and Why You Should Absolutely Talk About Them.”1 It describes a talk given by Stafford Wood (founder/president of Covalent Logic, a PR company) that makes some critical points:
“Think about it: sex is the relationship between you and love, politics is the relationship between you and society, and religion is the relationship between you and spirituality — or, as Wood describes them, ‘Together, these are love, peace and happiness; these are the only things I care about.’ And can you truly understand someone else, or even yourself, without knowing where the lines are drawn with these subjects and why?”
The article goes on to say that our beliefs and views on these topics are central to our identities. We therefore tend to seek out others who share and reinforce them while guarding against those who don’t. (In other words, “tribes.”) But he equates doing this to a strictly McNugget diet: ” . . . without real substance and variety, limiting yourself to something that feels nice and comfortable [but] can be detrimental in the long term.” And the article continues, ” . . . having your ideas challenged lets you see their strengths and weaknesses to assess their value. After all, the ultimate goal is to find truth.”
Considering our deep national and global partisan divides, I think this is the perfect time to begin to pursue these unspoken conversations. In fact, to forge a new Path I think we must start talking about a whole range of topics across all divides—political, ethnic, national/international, sexual orientation, religious/spiritual, etc. Sharing who we are as individual Human Beings is critical to experiencing our sense of Oneness because undoubtedly we’ll find we have more in common than we think.
Conversely, I posit that not speaking about these and other topics has a huge cost: our authenticity. It’s akin to wearing a mask to hide who we really are and what we believe, and can erect a brick wall emotionally between us and other people. In my experience, keeping masks and walls in place is exhausting; removing them is liberating:
For decades I never spoke about my eclectic spiritual beliefs that are definitely out of the Christian/Judaic/Buddhist/Islam/Hindu/Sikh/etc. mainstream. I’ve always thought that doing so would expose me to ridicule. But this blog gave me the freedom to “speak my truth”—and as a result, I’ve generally become more authentic in my speaking and in my Being, and feel more relaxed without the strain of keeping the mask and wall in place. I feel more free to express who I am, even as I continue to explore and expand and grow.
By speaking about the various topics in my posts I really am “learning the soul I am” with observable results. I have, indeed, become less judgmental and more kind; I shoot way less “energetic arrows”; I feel more compassion for the “other,” and am more accepting of them and their beliefs.
I think that last item—acceptance—is the key here: we all need to purposefully begin a “Tolerance Practice,” maybe using the following as a guide and springboard. (I’m going to be blunt here. And I acknowledge that the following reflects my own beliefs. My apologies if I offend you. Although it might be interesting for you to explore why you’re offended?)
About sex: Somebody has sexual interests or practices that are foreign, maybe even distasteful, to you? Well, as long as what those others do is consensual and between/among adults, maybe it’s none of our business. And concerning intimate relationships that are different from the “traditional,” maybe love is love, and is always beautiful in whatever form.
About religion: No matter how different someone’s spiritual beliefs are from ours, if their belief system brings them solace (and doesn’t harm other Beings), who are we to criticize or dismiss it?
About politics: I’ve read that in a democracy, nobody gets (or should get) 100% of what they want. Would it really be so awful to come to a compromise, for example, between a social safety net and fiscal responsibility? And to have inclusive laws that reflect our diverse beliefs?
And about other controversial topics? Well, you get the idea.
I had a therapist once who said that to identify the middle, we need to experience both extremes. So I think that to find common ground and to create compromise, we must discuss our differences. Of course, to begin with, I don’t suggest talking to just anybody about deeply-held beliefs. But neither do I think we need to go to the other end of the spectrum as sociologist Brene Brown’s suggests: that other people have to “earn the right to hear our story.” (A worthy concept but that could take time, and I think this is urgent.)
Rather, I think we need to use our inner knowing to identify with whom and when to engage in such conversations. As well as learn when and how to gracefully extricate ourselves if the discussion becomes too heated—we may be ready and willing to speak about the unspoken but others may not be.
Speaking our truth and having these conversations can be done. For example:
- Previously, I mentioned the tiny Colorado Rocky Mountain town we used to live in (pop. about 260). On the town’s online Bulletin Board, heated political discussions are frowned upon, but complaints about town issues are generally OK. I’ve always admired how one resident—an ardent political and social activist—occasionally speaks her complaints. She unabashedly speaks her truth but somehow is never offensive or incendiary. I’m not sure why. Maybe because there’s an authenticity and never a hint of judgement or maliciousness in what she says.
- Likewise, one of my friends purposely posts controversial stories, quotes, etc. on his FaceBook page specifically to prompt dialog with and among his followers. He reaches across divides and calmly responds to the often vitriolic comments with respect, logic, and facts. Honestly, I am in awe of how adept he is at this.
Maybe “speaking our truth” and being authentic while also being tolerant and respectful of others are additional vistas to explore on our Path to Oneness (along with Trust, Forgiveness, Compassion, and Connection). But I do think we should embark on this task judiciously—no need to immediately jump right in to a deep political conversation with an opposing political tribe member!
So maybe start here . . .
Observe how you and others converse about differences.
Begin to do a different kind of conversing. One tactic I learned in my Life Coach training is to respectfully ask what the other person’s concerns are regarding the topic under discussion—to determine what’s beneath their upset, anger, or stridency. This often can defuse the situation enough to begin a fruitful exchange of concerns and ideas, leading to some agreement or to an amicable “agree to disagree.”
Purposefully begin a “Tolerance Practice.” Be open to and accepting of our differences. Our diversity is what make us all interesting.
That last suggestion is one of those “practices” I speak about—you’ll never master it; you just keep “practicing.” For the rest of your life. And when you observe that you’ve “failed,” learn from it, and try again, and keep trying.
Pursuing a workable way of speaking about “taboo” and controversial topics, we’ll probably encounter some things that taste foreign vs. familiar McNuggets. But we could also discover a new favorite that’s a delight to our palate and that we can incorporate into our regular diet. And maybe find ourselves sharing a “meal” with people with whom we may not always agree, but we treat each other with mutual acceptance and respect, and learn from each other. And maybe even have fun with it all!
BTW—I asked my friend who has the FaceBook page how he reaches across the divide and so adroitly deals with angry, nasty comments:
“Ok, a friend told me once that a good leader has: curiosity, humility, and empathy. I think those are good qualities for everyone. Also, the practice of deep listening is absolutely critical – everyone wants to be understood, to feel heard, its quite healing. Give the other person the opportunity to express themselves fully, without judgment, asking questions until you reach their deepest loves and fears. Then find common ground, things you can agree on. Be patient and kind, and look for the best in people.”
P.S. But be alert to the possibility of “toxic” people. It’s not your job to convince or “save” anyone, especially not at the cost of your own well being. Consider not associating with them and, as I always say, surround them in Light or say a prayer for them—there’s probably a wound and pain beneath their toxicity. Even that patient, respectful FaceBook friend of mine has unfriended some his followers.