Is it really not OK to talk about religion or politics? What if we could have deep, constructive and meaningful conversations about our worldviews and the very essence of our "why" in life without getting into arguments, or worse, being dismissed before the discussion begins? Sure, we could talk about sports, the weather or our jobs, but what has more long-term value? If we could get together and dialogue about how our systems of government work (or don't work, as the case may be), could we actually change things?
What about religion? Let's assume, for a moment, that we really are eternal, spiritual beings and the decisions we make now have significant impact even after our bodies are gone. If that's really true, wouldn't it be worth dialoguing about (even if you have a contrary opinion)?
We could extend the list to include sex, parenting, education and even the foods we eat. All of these are emotionally charged topics stuffed full of strong (often judgmental) opinions. These topics invoke our passions because they involve our beliefs, expectations and desires. In essence, they are important to us.
So why don't we talk about the ideas that are important to us more often and more publicly?
I think part of the answer is summarized in the word stereotype: "A widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing." As long as we only see things through the lens of a stereotype, we'll never be able to really understand where an individual is coming from and what drives their opinions, beliefs and expectations. If we can begin to understand that those we talk with are at least as passionate as we are about a contradicting view, then, just maybe, we can start to engage them in a respectful manner that strengthens our relationship and hopefully deepens our understanding of ourselves and others.
The trick is, both parties involved in the conversation have to be willing to go to that level. If I tell you I'm a "Christian" and you're not willing to get to know me to better understand what that word means to me and how it impacts my life, then you'll most likely be left with an empty shell of who I really am. In many cases, the baggage that word implies can hinder relationship before it even begins. Same thing goes for other words such as Muslim, vegan, home-schooled, homosexual, Atheist, Republican, or Democrat. I could list many more. Which words trigger stereotypes for you?
So is the wise answer to just avoid discussing these topics? I hope not. I really, really hope not. We have freedoms in this country that many men and women have fought and died for. Freedoms that are arguably being eroded on a regular basis. If we don't exercise the freedoms we have, will they matter enough to defend? Great leaders (and great companies for that matter), often encourage and cultivate passionate dialog as part of the decision-making process. They need counter-opinions to better understand their own ideas or to change them as needed. If we think we have it all figured out, we're probably delusional. If we stop learning and growing, we stop improving ourselves and the world around us.
Maybe this is obvious to you, but do you still let it impact how you interact with people? Pick a stereotype that you have some strong opinions about... can you easily look past them in every conversation? I not only struggle at this, but I have failed at it miserably in the past.
I'm actively working to change because I certainly don't have it all figured out and the value of my relationships far outweighs my opinions or the need to be "right" all the time.