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Mama Said: Don’t Discuss Politics, Religion or Money with New Friends. Here’s Why.

“…Get to know each other, first.”  That’s how my mom put it.

You’ve probably heard someone advise that you should not discuss religion, money, or politics with new aquaintances, or in social situations – like at work, or at a wedding.

It may be really fun to debate with people you know…  trusted friends or family…  the ones you are truly “familiar” with.

But, according to Brett & Kate McKay, who write for The Art of Manliness:  it’s best to stay “kind and curious.”   They write:  “when it comes to avoiding the topics of politics, religion, and money with folks you’ve just met — there’s a reason this piece of advice is so timeworn.”  The McKays point out that:  “The introduction of these ‘controversial’ subjects can lead to a conversation getting overly heated, create misunderstandings, cause people to take offense, and end a relationship before it’s even begun.”

With familiar folks, “you’ve already built a relationship of trust and respect” – which permits each one to disagree in a civil way.  There’s still a bond or a trust.  You each know you’re more complex than just a one-issue-person.

But new acquaintances don’t know anything about you; and argument is a bad lead.  It just makes you look nuts.

For The Art of Manliness, the McKays offer these guidelines:

  • Introduce a charged topic gently and gradually rather than strongly and overtly. For example, rather than suddenly asserting, “I’ve long believed that religion is the opiate of the masses,” ask, “Are you religious?” or “Do you go to church regularly?”
  • Feel out their interest. If you float a controversial topic into conversation and the other person doesn’t bite, don’t force it. Move on to something else.
  • Don’t assume someone shares your convictions before they’ve said so. For example, if you want to talk about politics, rather than saying, “Trump’s a real clown, eh?” ask, “Did you watch Trump’s latest press conference?” From their answer, you’ll usually be able to assess their feelings on an issue, and decide how to couch what you say next.
  • Have a discussion rather than an argument. What’s the difference? A wise writer put it this way: “in discussion you are searching for the truth, and in argument you want to prove that you are right. In discussion, therefore, you are anxious to know your neighbor’s views, and you listen to him. In argument, you don’t care anything about his opinions, you want him to hear yours, hence, while he’s talking you are simply thinking over what you are going to say as soon as you get a chance.” Instead of trying to convert someone you’ve just met to your side, aim to understand how they’ve arrived at their convictions, where your positions differ, and the common ground you share.
  • Ask “What” questions rather than “Why” or “How” questions. Questions like, “How can you feel that way?” and “Why do you believe that?” make the other person feel attacked and create defensiveness. Instead, pose “What” questions that show your interest in understanding their position: “What makes you feel that way?” “What has led you to come to that conclusion?”
  • Keep calm. At little bit of heat keeps things interesting, but too much animosity can repel you apart. Avoid inflammatory language, and try to keep the conversation friendly and fun. If things are veering towards the acrimonious, change the subject, rather than continuing to hit your new acquaintance over the head with your opinions.

“Any topic of conversation can be on the table as long as you handle it in a tactful way.  All you really have to remember is this:  stay kind and curious.”

My mom would thank you, Kate and Brett.  ~ Mo

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