Yesterday I had a really great brunch with one of my aunts. We sat and chatted over coffee, eggs, bacon and French toast. Conversation started out light; we joked and laughed and reminisced. Then we started discussing my coursework and that got us to talking about our political beliefs, particularly our beliefs surrounding women’s health (safe access to abortion, birth control, the Planned Parenthood controversy, etc.). My aunt is a devout Methodist and I’m, well, I’m not sure what I am. I was raised Catholic but have since decided that organized religion is not for me. I believe in something but I don’t want to put a name on it. I believe in the powers of goodness and love, the powers of the universe and the magic of nature. But I digress. We chatted about our opinions and thoughts on the matter at hand and came to the conclusion that we believe choice, in regards to reproductive health, is up to the woman. Our discussion was cordial, respectful and there was no fear of offending the other person. This interaction spawned another curiosity for the both of us which we discussed at length: why are we so afraid that discussing our own beliefs will be offensive to others?
I started this blog because I want to share my interests and some of the knowledge I have gained through my graduate school work in women’s health. As a student I am often exposed to new ideas and ways of seeing things that are of great value and insight. However, when it comes to sharing my opinions and ideas about things that are deemed “controversial” I censor myself. I have had this conversation several times with my husband, friends and most recently, my aunt. I am so afraid of offending certain people that I would rather take the “safe” route. So instead I post recipes or projects I am working on, posts I find to be of value but in the grand scheme of what I want to write about they are very “safe” topics.
Ultimately I am only betraying myself but I can’t seem to get over this projected guilt I feel when I think about writing a post on something that might be upsetting to others; it hangs over me like a dark cloud. As my aunt and I began to discuss this realization we both agreed we often shy away from sharing our opinions on things for fear of offending. But the funny thing is, those people we are afraid of offending are the exact types of people who have no fear of jamming their ideologies down other people’s throats. People who preach their beliefs seem to do so without fear of upsetting others and people like me will silently disagree while being nothing but courteous to their spouting. Why? What is it that makes some people not care and other people (like me) care too much? People like me care so much, in fact, that in our interpersonal relationships it becomes a type of oppression (or repression), a type of censorship.
What is it then? Was I raised to be too polite? Am I a coward? Is it the passive aggressive Midwesterner in me who will silently swallow your bull shit then bitch about it to someone else behind your back? Well, there’s probably some truth to that. And I don’t believe this is a gender thing either, I have spoken with several male friends who carry this same “guilt”…granted, they’re Midwestern, too. It makes me wonder though, have we become such an overly P.C. culture that in an attempt to circumvent offence we have actually stifled voices? Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe we should be respectful to people, especially in conversation. So, are we just not teaching people how to communicate anymore? If you are having a respectful conversation with someone but they happen to disagree with you it doesn’t make you wrong and it doesn’t make the other person wrong, you just disagree. Yet, at some point, I don’t know when, disagreeing with someone became the ultimate betrayal. I can disagree with you and still be loyal, I can find your opinions misguided and still want to be your friend. However, time and time again I find myself in conversations with certain people whose only objective is to change my mind at all costs. People don’t seem to want to listen anymore they just want their opinions validated and I’m getting tired of it. I want to be able to freely share my opinions and thoughts without fear or guilt over the possibility I “might” offend someone. I want to be able to engage in respectful dialogue with another person so we may learn from one other. I want to be able to respectfully disagree without being yelled at.
There are infinite ways to view the world in which we live. Our perspectives are based on our experiences and our experiences encompass race, class, gender, religion, education, geography, age, weight, eye color, hair color, style, the kinds of cars we drive, the types of travel we do, the movies we watch, the music we listen to the, the books we read, the food we eat….I could go on and on but I think you are getting my point. Each and every person on this planet is the culmination of their past experiences and every little nuance of who they are will affect their experience in the world. We must learn to respectfully listen to and communicate with each other while keeping these things in mind because only in healthy, safe and nonjudgmental communication can we foster understanding. If we cannot learn to respectfully communicate and understand one another we are doomed to be a society of overtly aggressive people who speak the loudest vs a group of people who are so afraid of offending others that their voices my never be heard.
I’m working on letting go of my guilt and building a thicker skin so that I may someday openly write about topics and issues I find to be of value. It’s a process but this post is my first step.