Discussing Differences

Last night a discussion on my FaceBook page brought up the rule of etiquette that says one should never discuss the controversial topics of politics or religion in mixed company.  One friend commented that the two topics cannot be discussed with creating disharmony and a lack of respect.  Personally, I subscribe to the belief set forth by Matthew Warner at Fallible BlogmaAlways Talk Religion and Politics.  These things are two of the most important issues affecting our lives.  Why should we avoid them?  Maybe if we discussed them more often we would learn how to discuss them with respect and learn from each other.  
If we do not talk about religion and politics except among like minded individuals, how are we to put a human face on those people who are different or disagree with our beliefs? If we only talk amongst ourselves, how are we going to learn about others?  Only from what we read in books or observe in the media?  If we only rely on those mediums, then we must accept that we are learning someone else’s point of view along with the subject matter.  We need to be able to engage in discussions where we can ask questions, collect answers, and decide for ourselves.

So many people seem unable to discuss religion and politics with those of differing viewpoints without becoming aggressive or defensive. Still others see the discussion as an opportunity to influence others or change their mind.  But, if you set your mind to it, asking questions and listening to their answers can be truly enlightening.  In a previous job I had two colleagues who were Muslim and Jehovah’s Witness.  Over lunch, I would ask them tons of questions about their faith and beliefs, leading to really interesting discussions.  I learned not only about their faith, but about them as a person: how they view the world, their beliefs, and how they feel about others who are different from themselves.  This experience gave me a new perspective to consider when forming my own beliefs and opinions. 

Over the years, I have engaged in similar discussions with those of varying ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.  To be honest, I find it terribly fascinating to learn about other people and their lives.  Because the truth is, our personal experiences shape us into who we are and what we believe.  If we shut ourselves off from discussing differences in important areas, like religion and politics, we are limiting our understanding of others and even our own understanding of ourselves.

Maybe we should take a moment these days to turn off the television or radio, put down the newspaper or magazine, and invite a coworker or friend out to lunch or coffee and get to know them better.  Talk not only about what television show you watched last night, but also share things important to you. Ask questions with love and respect to discover where your differences lie and listen to each other.  Use the opportunity to create a deeper connection and in addition to learning about them, you may learn about yourself in the process. You never know what good will come of such a seemingly simple act.


Lisa Henley Jones