Politics, religion and sex are three taboo discussions in most workplaces today. Yet, they are probably three of the most valuable discussions adults can explore.
With reasonable people.
Facebook and other social media have allowed us to hide behind a computer and say and do things that adults from a generation ago would never have dreamed of, much less say out loud.
Let’s take politics. This was once a worthwhile topic for the water cooler, the grocery store and even the dinner table. Nowadays, though, these discussions pit co-workers, church goers and even brothers and sisters against each other.
There was a time when even U.S. senators could debate issues and policies with passion on the floor, then take their families to dinner together and enjoy each other’s company. Even Ronald Reagan invited Tip O’Neill to the White House at the end of a busy week for drinks to cap off the week.
No more, though. The civility in our discourse has long gone. Mention the name Obama or Trump or Pelosi or McConnell and the shouting and the demeaning innuendo begins.
Then, there’s religion. Oh my, the lines are so blurred it’s often hard to tell where the world ends and the church begins.
Take a stand on the truth of the Bible and you are quickly ostracized though. Franklin Graham is scrambling to find other venues after several locations cancelled. The city of Edinborough cancelled a conference by Pastor Larry Stockstill because of his beliefs.
Both men have strong-held beliefs about the Bible and they have been banned. In a day when the emphasis is on tolerance and hearing everyone’s thoughts, Christians — devout Christians, at least — are being shouted down and overwhelmed with words like homophobes and divisive.
But the bigger issue is that many churches today operate in an echo chamber. People would prefer to argue, hide or have their ears tickled (read 2 Timothy 4:3) than have a real discussion about their beliefs.
And then there is the sexual revolution that began in the ’60s and ’70s. Again, if you don’t believe like the so-called establishment, you are called a hater and excluded.
The problem in all three instances is that there is little or no respect for people. Everyone is a human, everyone has a right to their views, but everyone also must bear responsibility for their opinions and perspectives. It’s one thing to believe a certain way, but to denigrate, slander or vilify someone who believes differently is contemptuous, cavalier and plain snooty.
What is the solution? First, know what you believe. Understand it, be able to articulate it and be willing to discuss it. That means a willingness to be challenged on it. It does not mean you have to bend or change your position. It does mean you are willing to grow stronger and deeper by exploring those thoughts with others who are not necessarily like-minded.
It also means you will commit to:
- Not ridicule or belittle others who do not believe as you do.
- Listen, as much as you speak.
- Study to show yourself approved. That means, again, knowing and understanding why you believe what you believe.
- Walk away meekly if the conversation cannot be a two-way discussion or if it begins to devolve into a shouting match.
You can start the discussion with your spouse or a co-worker or a church member. Believe it or not, there are many members of your church who will not necessarily see eye-to-eye with you on theology, race, politics. But they are also likely to have a discussion.
When you sit down with someone, start with these questions:
- Tell me about yourself, where you’re from, your childhood, how you got here.
- If you can choose one person — dead or alive — to have dinner with tomorrow night, who would it be? And, why?
- Talk to me about your family.
- Find an area of commonality — sports, family, authors, history, etc. — and explore it.
In other words, build a relationship on a foundation other than the taboo matters because it’s likely you won’t agree on politics, religion or sexual orientation. Make your conversation — at least the first part of it — about them.
It will reduce the shouting, lower the tension and diminish the likelihood the conversation deteriorates into a meaningless, dirt-throwing, personally demeaning debacle.
Build on relationship rather than rules. You will become stronger and you’ll develop a friend who will stick with you regardless of your differences.