Recently I had the fortune of sitting down to eat some great Chinese food with two lovely girlfriends of mine. My friends Megan and Kat had already established themselves in my mind as open and tolerant women with whom you could probably talk to about almost anything. Yet as I’m sure most of you have experienced in the past, believing that someone is open-minded and actually finding them to be open-minded during conversation are two very different things. Thus, when the conversation at the table turned from light and fluffy; the usual comment about ones wardrobe, the weather, and the guys we were seeing and/or hoping to date, to one laced with social stigma, prejudice and great bias, I began to shift uncomfortably in my seat.
It is often the case that when you find yourself sitting amongst intellectual equals it is difficult to avoid topics that stimulate the mind. These topics tend to be the “hot buttons” of society. The recent racial discussions going on in the media, the experience of being part of different cultures, having grown up experiencing the foster care system, poverty and the ramification’s that it has on generations to come etc. all seem to come up naturally. Yet we are all taught, or socially signaled, to avoid these topics for fear of offending someone…GASP! I’m fairly positive that almost every dating advice book in the world (not at all exaggerating here…not one bit) says that you should avoid talking about religion, politics, and money if you want any relationship to survive. I personally believe that this does the whole of humanity a huge disservice.
To begin with, there is nothing like discussing “taboo topics” to figure out a person’s personality. I’m not talking about figuring out where they fall on the spectrum of liberal vs. conservative. Rather, I’m talking even more basic than that. Discussing taboo topics can be an instantaneous insight into what character of person you are dealing with. You can find out whether you have a “hot head” on your hands, who will get irrationally uncomfortable any time something difficult comes up, or perhaps you have a classic case avoider around that will never be able to discuss serious topics. You may have an immature buffoon sitting across from you who can only produce jokes to lighten the mood and steer the conversation away from the taboo topic to what I hope is a discussion about how lame the jokes were and how offensive they may be. Essentially, you instantaneously get to see whether you are engaging someone who can contribute intellectually and politely to a conversation or someone who can’t. And why would you ever want to deal with someone who can’t?
I was extremely fortunate during my discussion with Megan and Kat to discover that both ladies were of the character that could handle smoothly approaching difficult topics. Something that Megan brought up during our conversation really stuck with me. When we began talking about how it can be difficult to inquire about someone’s past, or about a culture you don’t know about for fear of offending, she mentioned hearing a speaker say that in order to talk about these topics you have to come from a place of friendship. What a profound way of viewing our interactions with those around us. If we all approached life with this in mind, going about our day and speaking with each other from a place of friendship rather than animosity we would live much happier lives.
By sitting at that table, sharing food with these girls, and approaching the conversation from a place of friendship I was able to voice difficulties that I have in understanding certain cultural positions. We shared common experiences, while also learning about situations that we hadn’t experienced ourselves. Rather than allowing these “taboo topics” to divide and alienate us, we were able to allow ourselves to bond over the experience of unbound curiosity. I didn’t feel uncomfortable asking what it was like experiencing an upbringing vastly different from my own. I didn’t feel the need to play up my own experiences either in order to feel as though I maintained authority and a rightful place at the discussion. I was able to exist peacefully, as I am, while discussing things that often cause blood to boil and friendships to be lost. And so, ultimately, this experience has taught me to go forward into the world from a place of friendship and not cower away from taboo talk, for in that very discussion could be an enlightenment that I never thought possible.