Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Facts vs. framework in the big three untouchable topics

So you probably know the old saying that at dinner parties there are three topics you can't talk about:  politics, religion and money.

That's probably good advice for interactions with strangers.  But in general we grow in knowledge on a topic by thinking about it, educating ourselves about it, and eventually interacting with others about it with a balance of speaking and listening.  In other words, once we make a topic untouchable in conversation, we've put a cap on how far we can ever grow and mature on that topic.  What a shame!

I totally get why those three topics are untouchable.  They go right to the heart of our deepest personal values, in a way I'm summarize roughly as:

  Religion -- Our spiritual/moral values
  Money  -- Our material/physical values
  Politics -- How the two above are implemented society-wide

But what I'm noticing a lot right now is that people aren't able to reasonably discuss any facts or opinions in these areas because they're so locked into their frameworks.

Religion -- instead of the facts of religious history, my framework of fundamentalism doesn't allow me to listen to your faith story in an open and friendly way

Money -- instead of the facts of healthcare, unemployment, minimum wage laws or philanthropy, my framework of liberalism or conservatism won't allow me to admit that both sides might have some good points to make

Politics -- instead of the facts of congressional climate or regulatory bloat, my framework of Right vs. Left makes it a zero-sum game that I must win at all costs

At first glance this seems like a very poor way to arrange our worldviews.  After all, if my insistence on a framework of "my way or the highway" not only prevents me from learning but also creates a toxic environment where I won't be an effective persuader, why do so many people seem to approach it this way?

I have a guess and will share it soon.


Debby said...

An extemely important topic. I watched 'John Adams', the HBO documentary, and something struck me. In the creating of this new country, there were strong opinions about how things needed to be done. John Adams felt, for instance, that the president should be called 'His Majesty'. Others felt very strongly about 'Mr. President'. But despite the sharp disagreements, it was polite. They referred to each other respectfully. In this way a country was built. Now, our disagreements are dividing this country. People talk about going back to the principles that this country was founded on. We can't. No one understands how to respectfully disagree, and move past the disagreement (without attacking the person) to solve the problem.


MamaRose said...

I wasn't sure WHAT to say--I'm probably ONE of 'the ones' who are PART of our PROBLEM--but, hope not.

I do know that I have MORE of an OPEN MIND--to 'new' things, as I grow older, which is a good thing.

And, I TOTALLY AGREE with Debby--in that WHEN we disagree--can't we ALL just 'AGREE TO DISAGREE'--RESPECTFULLY--without calling anyone by any names?????!!!!!!! That's what I'd like to SEE, FOR SURE!!!

Michael, as good as you are as a 'referee' or MEDIATOR, surely YOU could put your GOD-GIVEN talents TO HELP US ALL--I'd 'VOTE' for that/YOU!!!!!


Michael said...


I know we are ALL part of the problem from time to time. Right when I think I'm doing better, someone will bring up a topic I've researched and I'll blast in with a point that I think is so obviously correct. And that might be only minutes after I've criticized people who do exactly that.

But it's not the people like us who make policy in Washington or make millions spouting opinions on TV and radio. My next post will be an attempt to explain how those people got their jobs, and how that's part of the problem.

Love you!

Steve H. said...

Michael, your last comment says it all. Too many people's jobs these days depend on keeping the money flowing by creating an us-them dichotomy. "There are bad people out there out to destroy everything you hold dear, but if you give to us, we'll fight the good fight"

Hal Johnson said...

Great encapsulation of what ails the process of real discourse in our nation. And like you, I can look at others with a critical eye, only to realize moments later that I'm guilty of the same thing.

Andrew said...

Hey bud! Haven't heard from you in a while. I hope this note finds you well!

Debby said...

Miss you, man, but am surely enjoying the glimpses of your family on facebook. Those kidlets are growing like weeds!

Michael said...

Thank you, Debby! I am starting the writing process again. Just not sure if it will be here or on a new site.

Debby said...

I hope that if you 'move' your blog, you'll post some sort of a notice.