Practice Talking

“Don’t talk religion or politics. It’s not polite.”

That was the conditioning I received growing-up. Of course as children we heard the adults doing exactly that: talking religion and politics. They did it after the kids had gone to bed, in veiled but intense tones. Their vowels were hushed in stage-whispers, yet we heard them spit out their consonants at those who thought differently than them.

So we learned not to talk religion and politics. And we learned we cannot not talk about religion and politics. They are too important not to talk about. Religion speaks to the manifestation our spirituality and our deepest desires for connection and meaning. Politics speaks to how we interact and structure ourselves in a civil society. They point to things that have to be talked about.

But some of us were told not to talk about them. Yet we can’t stop talking about them. There is a part of us that still feels guilty when we talk religion or politics. Yet we do. We must. To try to resolve this conflict within ourselves we have a number of strategies.

How We Speak About the Unspeakable

We have learned to talk about touchy subjects, but only with other people who we know – or at least suspect – think the same way we do. People who won’t challenge us.

So we gather together to talk only with other like-minded people. In union halls. In chambers of commerce. In service clubs. In churches and synagogues and mosques. In precinct meetings. On Facebook. We gather together to talk with others what we need to talk about. To talk about the things we feel guilty talking about. With people who think like we do.

We may withdraw from political action. It becomes to us dirty politics, the refuge of lying politicians all of whom are on the take. We still have our beliefs about what government and public officials should do, of course. But we’re above it. We can now talk dismissively about politics as something we would never do. So when the political debate gets heated we can dismiss the whole affair and smugly claim all politicians are liars and scoundrels and criminals.

Similarly, we may withdraw from anything that smacks of religion. From there it’s easy to dismiss anything that tries to put words to our inner voice as irrational or superstitious.

We may continue to talk about religion, but not as religion. It becomes morals. We’re not talking about religion anymore, but about the right way of doing things. It’s no longer a matter of “I do this because of my religious beliefs.” It has become “this is the way I do things and the way all things should be; this is the right way moral people should act.”

We may talk of political things similarly, in absolutist, and ideological terms.

Using these strategies – talking among ourselves and in absolutist terms – our views on religion and politics become entrenched. By talking only with others who agree and won’t challenge us, our already ideological beliefs become even more accreted and solidified. Now we talk about “what’s right,” the way things ought to be done and even The American Way. We are no longer able to question them. We no longer see they came from somewhere else and have deeper roots. They just are. They are unquestionable. And they are right.

The Trouble in Talking with Others

“It’s my opinion and it’s very true.”

These are not effective strategies for priming one’s participation as an informed citizen in our body politic. They’re not great ways to interact with others in a civil society.

There are other people in our world who in working to resolve the same or similar conflicts in themselves reach very different conclusions than we did. They’ve come to their ideas about “what’s right,” the way things ought to be done and even The American Way. And their ideas are not our ideas.

Trouble comes when we find ourselves talking to these people. Not only are their ideas different, they seem contradictory to ours. We think we cannot have our ideas when they also have theirs. We feel threatened. So when we and them come together and start talking about our different ideas, it often doesn’t go very well.

We have a hard time talking with anyone who expresses different ideas. Conversations between ideologues about absolutes are hard to start. Once started they’re hard to keep from turning into verbal fistfights.

We see this in the point/counter-point style of debate. They’re not informative. They’re rarely persuasive. At best they only satisfy the speakers that they, and they alone, are right.

We have morphed the unspeakable – religion and politics – into the unquestionable. We’ve converted them into ideological beliefs so we can talk about them among ourselves. It means that we can no longer talk about them with others who think differently.

Practice, Practice, Practice

We don’t get a lot of practice talking with others who think differently than we do. Because we don’t get a lot of practice, we’re not very good at it.

It’s not just the conflicts over religion and politics we have a hard time talking about and that we don’t practice much. There are other conflicts that are as much borne within us and come from our conditioning and our different experiences. They can be conflicts within our other communities and societal structures, like work and family. These difficulties we also convert to immutable beliefs and don’t talk about with others who may think differently. So we’re not good at it.

The solution is to practice. Practice talking about religion and politics and other things that are important. Practice talking with others who think differently than we do. It may not always go well. But we’ll get better at it the more we practice.

photo credit: Das Fotoimaginarium via photo pin cc

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