We aren't supposed to talk about religion, sex and politics in polite company. Things like the weather, sport (if you support the same team), business, children (if you don't criticise parenting approaches), TV series, dieting fads and home improvements make for more smiles and less blood boiling.
The problem with this approach is that we only end up talking about the saucy stuff with people who we agree with. They recommend books by smart people who agree with us. We watch movies by people who are good at adding dramatic flair to our opinions. We build up real world bubbles. Then along comes social media and pricks these bubbles. Instead of having physical barriers and facial expressions to guide us what not to say in order to upset people, we have... nothing.
Fresca - tastes like... NOTHING!
You used to be able to be a Goth on a Friday, a Metal Head on a Saturday, a good church-goer on a Sunday and (covering up all your tattoos) a solid office worker during the week. No one needed to know about the little pockets of your life. Bubbles become more difficult to maintain when everyone has a camera and keyboard on their phone and the world is a few degrees of separation away.
A friend of mine takes a more direct approach on his blog 'Irresistibly Fish', directly addressing taboo topics. Things like eating disorders, racism, vegetarianism, marriage counselling etc. These are obviously all very core issues to 'happiness and learning', which is what I aim to write about. As are religion, sex and politics. We can't really progress our understanding of these things by only talking about them in our bubbles. But, I am more wary than Brett. I know many of my friends have very different opinions to me on certain issues. I am scared of putting distance between us if they don't give me a generous bull quota. Live and let live, and all that jazz.
In one of my favourite books of all time (everyone should have a copy), 'The Happiness Hypothesis', Jonathan Haidt aims to pull together the threads of ancient wisdom from religion and philosophy and put them to the test of modern science. It is not surprising that he followed up this book with 'The Righteous Mind' which looks at why good people are divided by the 'the things of which we should not speak'. We pretty much have to speak about them if we want to get to the good stuff. There are however trigger words which drive us absolutely nuts.
As an example of trigger words in a difficult conversation, I have been involved in a thread on Facebook of people discussing the acceptance of homosexuality within the church. Many wonderful, good people, will still frame a response as 'love the sinner', and 'don't cast a stone'. Other wonderful, good people, are concerned about a 'slippery slope' of morality falling apart if the things society accepts start changing. I was trying to understand what 'sin' means. Sin is a trigger word. Many people are likely to simply exit the conversation at that point. People start equating homosexual relationships to murder. Discussing it with one of the church leaders, I got to the point of
'A sin is something which gets in the way of a deep and fulfilling happiness for you, your family, your community, and the world we live in.'
We probably need another word besides sin. I think that obstacles to happiness and a society that functions better is something people from various religions and non-religious people can talk about more openly. They can also disagree.
More generally, a world where we can talk about religion, sex and politics without descending into name calling is probably a better world. But if you don't support the Sharks, you are an idiot.