Dear Uncle Louis,
My parents raised me under the idea that I should never discuss politics or religion, especially in public. But now that I’m in college, I find these to be essential topics of discussion if I’m to befriend someone since both of these things are very telling of what a person is really like. I’m unsure if I should break that mold. Help?
In the respect you’re describing, I was raised in a very similar tone. I was raised by my grandparents and Mom. My grandparents have an old-fashioned view when it comes to discussing the subjects of religion and politics. Their enforced rule of staying silent regarding such important topics never did quite jive with me as I grew up, either. I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiment that they’re essential to discuss in the event you’re trying to cultivate friendships. I’d even extend that to any relationship except for those grounded strictly in business (like with your coworkers, at an internship, etc.)
It’s important to be willing to have open dialogues about these topics with friends, or especially potential romantic partners because disagreements in religious-based philosophies and/or political policies truly can be a deal-breaker for many people. Some people even feel their opinions on these topics make up the core of their identity.
In some cases, however, I would potentially verge upon playing the devil’s advocate and warn you that there’s a time and a place for such exchanges. For example, let’s say you’re in a Denny’s at 11 a.m. on a Sunday surrounded by the after-church crowd of elderly folks. You’re also there with your outspoken, boisterous friends. Perhaps that’s not the best time to have a debate about whether or not God is real and why it matters or not.
In that context, you may have people approaching you with their own opinions when you don’t want to hear them. I say this mainly because I, personally, have had that happen with that sort of “God debate” before when at a mostly quiet coffee shop. It wasn’t fun for me, but I probably should have recognized that my voice naturally carries and it wasn’t exactly the best place for such a discussion.
My point with that whole spiel is that context matters. Bottom line: Please don’t shy away from discussing your passions, or what you think is vital to discuss. Just be careful in gauging whether it’s the right person, place, or time.
If anyone has questions they’d like to send in for the chance to get free advice published here on the Bridge, please contact Adrien Gojko, or “Uncle Louis,” at firstname.lastname@example.org.