When the rainy season starts, it reminds me that it’s also the season of weddings and family reunions. In other words, more relationship challenges. When you go to visit your relatives this summer, you will be on your best behavior, being the kind and thoughtful person that you are. But chances are it won’t be all fun and barbecues, because it is likely you will find it difficult to bring up some subjects.
With your in-laws, you probably once thought it was just that you were tuned in to a different channel. But have you noticed that a new wave of incompatible beliefs is making all social gatherings harder to navigate. Beneath the surface of polite topic-avoidance, there is a widening gap of viewpoints.
If there is a universal list of topics to be avoided, religion and politics must be right up there at the top. Strangely enough, it used to be that the topic of sex was on the taboo list, but even that seems to have slipped lower in the “no-no” ratings. Religion and politics have topped the list, I think, because growing extremism in both areas has divided our social gatherings.
Here’s the contradiction: If you speak up about your convictions, you are likely to find yourself further separated from those you once thought you shared perspectives with. If you keep quiet on the taboo topics, you run the risk of having superficial conversations.
So I ask myself, why are we all experiencing these barriers to what could be pleasant table-talk? I don’t condemn people for their convictions, but there is something going on that hinders real conversation. I want to prepare you psychologically for the rigors and hazards of socializing in this new world of hot topics. It is a modern minefield, and naturally you want to venture safely with as few restrictions as possible.
I have this theory that people avoid talking about politics and religion in social settings because beliefs about these areas are held too personally. What is too personal? If it prevents authentic interpersonal relationships, isn’t it defeating the purpose of getting together? Psychologically speaking, a person’s belief system is meant to be an underpinning, strong like the girders that hold up a bridge.
But these personal beliefs are held more emotionally than rationally. People are passionate about their convictions. For this reason, it is hard to listen to the point of view of your partner in conversation. He or she, like you, has probably formed opinions based on emotions which run deep. Most of us arrive at religious and political beliefs based less on logic than on what we inherit and absorb from parents, mentors and people we admire. We tend to identify with a subculture and reinforce our beliefs by remaining inside a bubble of information sources that we already agree with. Talking to other people like ourselves is comforting, because we get reinforced in these settings.
The trick is to hold onto the Great Paradox of convictions: On the one hand, it is good to have a strong and deeply held belief that sustains you in the uncertainties of your life. At the same time, can you also admit that there might be other valid beliefs out there which don’t negate your own?
It takes some kind of courage as well as humility to venture into a conversation where you really try to listen and understand a person of a different persuasion. I don’t say it is easy, but, if you and I are to find our common humanity, we have to talk, and widen the network of our relationships.
William Morrow is a Florida licensed marriage and family therapist, with offices in Cape Coral and Fort Myers. He is the author of “The Rain Doesn’t Fall Straight Down.” Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more at http://WilliamRMorrow.blogspot.com.
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