Discussing controversial beliefs, topics should not be taboo

By Jessica Hubble | Multimedia Editor

We’ve all heard the adage many times –– never talk politics and religion. Why shouldn’t we talk about those things? Is it because they can cause tension and conflict? Shouldn’t people know how to have civil discourse about the things they are passionate about?

I believe we should be able to talk about controversial topics such as politics and religion, as well as many other contentious topics, and still be able to listen to one another with respect. These topics are of great importance in everyone’s lives, and we can always learn from one another. Even if you end up not being able to see eye-to-eye on the topic, you can agree to disagree.

A lot of the divisive politics and inability to discuss controversial topics comes from people being raised to never talk about these subjects.

Your beliefs should be challenged, and you should always be introduced to new ideas and ways of thinking. If someone cannot handle an examination of their worldview or scrutiny of their beliefs, maybe they should rethink their convictions.

Many people would say not to discuss controversial things simply because, “You can’t change someone’s mind.” Should the goal really be to change someone’s mind? Maybe the goal should be to learn more about the topic so you can make a more informed decision. Maybe the goal should be to have your beliefs challenged and strengthened. In civil discourse, people could learn to change their minds and not have to feel like they are admitting defeat. They wouldn’t have to feel so rooted in one place because of how divisive civil discourse is in today’s political climate.

Now, there are definitely times when discussing controversial topics is not appropriate, but they should be talked about more often to allow for a more well-rounded view of the world. It is not okay to shove your beliefs in someone else’s face and try to force them to believe what you do.

The University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching researched ways to discuss controversial topics in the classroom. Even though the methods they analyzed were for classrooms, I believe that they can apply to everyday discussion as well. Some applicable guidelines include setting ground rules, providing facts and references and giving everyone equal time to speak.

Setting ground rules can include not using inflammatory language, not interrupting, avoiding speculation and blame, criticizing ideas rather than people and avoiding assumptions about participants in the discussion.

Identifying the purpose of the conversation is also important. It helps decide why you are having the conversation, and it makes sure you are not having the conversation just to argue or push your beliefs.

Taking an active role in discussing controversial topics helps people get more involved in civic life, develop an interest in government and a desire to participate, understand the reasoning of people with opposing views and think deeply and critically about issues.