Rule #1: Never talk about religion or politics at the dinner table

The title this article presents a well understood and unspoken truth.  We should not invite potentially divisive topics into our social or family time.  It is never worth a broken friendship or awkward conversation among disagreeing family members.

I understand the force behind this type of reasoning.  When it comes to groups of people, there will invariably be differences in opinion, and if you value your relationship with the other person, you should not offend them by challenging their views.  In my own family I have someone from just about every end on the political and religious spectrum.  I also deeply care about each individual in my family. I would never want to ostracize them or make it so that they do not want to be around me.  With this said, I think that at the root of this unwritten rule is a deep flaw.  Further, if we could re-frame the idea of conversations regarding important tough topics to make them less intimidating and less taboo, I believe that our families, communities, and country would be greatly improved.

What is the flaw?

It is a mistake to think that issues are not worth talking about if they are hard issues to talk about.  It does not follow that we should avoid something because it has the potential to cause conflict. I would certainly hope that someone who loves me would, in love, tell me that I am walking in the wrong direction if I am a step away from walking off of a cliff!  Conversations can be uncomfortable and helpful at the same time.  What needs to be addressed are the rules and etiquette of the game.  How are we to address hard issues that affect us all without hurting someone?

When talking politics, I often here people complaining about congress and their inability to make changes happen.  Wouldn’t it be nice if they could just circumvent the current “broken system” and get stuff done? There are many problems with the whole “broken system” assertion as it seems to forget the importance of checks and balances and separation of power aspect of our system.  Beyond that, the reason that things cannot “get done” is because, “we the people” are divided and hence vote for congressmen who will reflect the convictions of their constituency.  In a polarized nation full of individuals who have no desire to have meaningful and persuasive dialogue with those in opposition, what should we expect of our representatives in congress to do? They are getting paid to have the tough conversations that we should be having.   We complain about the fact that they cannot get anything done instead of starting the conversation in our homes with our families and with our loved ones.  If we can create at least some consensus at the family and group level, there will be much more hope for those we send to D.C. in coming to agreements and streamlining processes.

We are so lazy and scared

It takes courage to risk hurting someone we love by bringing up a topic that is hard.  After all, the constitution was formed on the basis that “we the people” are self-governing. This means that if we are not involved in the process of preserving limited government and freedom, we are not doing our jobs as citizens. The phrase, “freedom is not free” can apply to this truth. The freedom of self government is also a large responsibility.

On Religion, why not bring it up with those we care about?  Religion speaks to the deep questions of existence, meaning, purpose, value, and life after death.  How someone views these topics will define the type of person he or she becomes and therefore needs to be addressed at some point.  The ideas that individuals have regarding ultimate reality will be lived out by the behaviors of that person thus effecting us all.

A way forward

One way that we can change the current stigma attached to talking about politics and religion is to change our expectations. We can expect that talking about such things are not only going to happen but that the outcome does not have to be altogether negative. We can decide NOT to get offended by someone’s viewpoint. We can treat their viewpoint as a propositional statement that needs evaluating. We do not need to feel attacked personally if someone disagrees with our arguments and voices their opposition. Is this not a healthy way to perpetuate family relationships, groups, and communities?

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