Thursday, February 18, 2010

Writing About Talking, Part Three: Religion

There is a lot to say about whether people should or should not talk about religion in company. Yahoo! Answers contributors said not to, unless you know the company really well. An opinion I've already agreed with - as far as manners are concerned, it's more polite not to potentially agitate, offend, and otherwise ruin a party by broadcasting one's beliefs.

But CW would say anyone can say whatever they like and if someone else get's offended, it's their responsibility; you can't go through life worrying if you're going to offend someone.

Which I also agree with. So the answer must lie in the middle. And I think Matthew Warner at Fallible Blogma had a good argument: maybe if we talked more about religion, we'd be better equipped to handle passionate disagreements politely. Although I think his assertion this this adage has resulted in "generation illiterate of politics and ignorant of religion" is harsh; I always thought this advice was attributed to Ben Franklin, am I wrong? I do think, however, that this policy has made it harder for us to talk when it's important to talk - without talking, how can we hope to understand different beliefs from our own and find a way for them to coexist peacefully?

Then, Randy Cohen at the New York Times took a different twist in an article posted last Fall. He was covering the Vatican's invitation to Anglicans "uncomfortable with female priests and openly gay bishops" to rejoin the Catholic church. He was dissatisfied, to put it mildly, that mainstream media didn't "castigate the Vatican’s invitation to misogyny and homophobia".

But then, when has the mainstream media been good for anything?

I like some of what Cohen had to say, particularly the Federal government's mixed policies regarding what religions can and cannot be held accountable for. But he says that a church, like any other major organization, ought to be "subject to moral scrutiny, whether the group is the Boy Scouts or Nascar or the Roman Catholic Church".

But he forgets: who's morality are we scruitenizing them under? What makes that moral scruitny more acceptable?

I can understand where he's coming from. I don't think it's right to forbid women to hold positions equal to men or to hate homosexuals, but that doesn't make it ok to tell a whole group of people they're wrong. If they adhere to beliefs and ideas that are unpopular, they'll lose their strength, as Catholics are in the US (please note - I don't agree with the perspective of this author, but the statistics are compelling) and as numerous. religions. have in the past.

Although critizing an organization or belief isn't the same as having contempt for it, as he said, I would suggest there is a difference between critisim and questioning or discussion, which is always my aim with conversations about religion. I want to understand someone else's point of view, and why they think that, and talk about what makes our perspectives different or similar. That's fascinating. But I don't think anyone has any right to critisize.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Writing about Talking, Part Two: Open Conversation and Healthy Sex

Since sex is by far the most interesting of the three taboo topics (politics and money aren’t as…sexy…), let’s start there.

For me, the bottom line is that open and honest communication makes for a better quality of life in any situation. Healthy sexual lives begin with open and honest communication from parents.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says:
By developing open, honest and ongoing communication about responsibility, sex, and choice, parents can help their youngsters learn about sex in a healthy and positive manner.
And then maybe when their youngsters grow up to be horny teenagers, they won’t be emotionally scarred or scar anyone else because sex isn’t Evil, Scary, and thus Forbidden. Yay!

My sexual experiences have all be positive because I had a network of support. There was always a friend to call up and commiserate, celebrate, or compare notes with. I was rarely scared or worried for long about whether I was normal or whether he was normal. Sex is just like anything else: when you’re trying something new for the first time, you want to know what it was like for others to gauge your own experiences. Without honest conversation, you’re alone, worried, fumbling in the dark. And that is way less fun.

Gen Y, on the whole, is mostly through the sexual awakening part. Now, it’s about figuring out how sex fits into the discussion: what counts as TMI, what we should be more open about, and what is ok in certain situations.

Let’s take a casual, social situation: Saturday night; drinks at home; mixed company; you know everyone there pretty well.

For the record, 99% of the time I won’t be embarrassed and would love to talk about sex. But like I said, I had a lot of positive experiences. There are plenty of people who don’t feel that way. So my default setting is don’t bring it up, unless they do first.

But alternatively, ask if the person if they are comfortable talking about whatever sexy thing is on your mind. And if the conversation gets steamier, it’d be considerate to check in and make sure no one is getting uncomfortable. Hopefully they’d say something to the effect of “Guys, this is a little much, who wants some more dip?”, but you should probably check anyway.

From there it’s a scale. Maybe if you’re with just the guys (though I’ve heard men don’t really talk about sex like this? Opinions gentlemen?), or with a group of your oldest friends and there’s a higher threshold of what’s ok. If you’re at a party where you don’t know most of the people – I’d say that calls for a very low threshold.

Since lots, if not most, of Gen Y social interactions take place online, however, what are the guidelines for that? This is where our society, and legal system, are still figuring out what’s appropriate. Sexual harassment happens online, and people are empowered by the level of anonymity the Internet affords.

I’d say if you’re writing in your blog, you can say whatever you like and your readers will either continue reading or stop if they’re uncomfortable. Then it becomes about writing for your audience.

Dragging people into conversations, however, is not appropriate. Like, posting sexy comments on a Facebook wall. If you don’t know that person’s threshold, don’t. Plus, you don’t know what their privacy settings are, maybe they are keeping their wall PG for mom and dad’s sake.

And it can become a fine line between being open and funny and being a pervert that skeeves people out instead of contributing to a healthy dialogue about sex.

Don’t be that guy.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Writing about Talking, Part One

Last week, I wrote about conversations in polite company and I realized I have a lot more to say about that.

What if that is just a form of censorship? Censorship is my nemesis. So I thought about it.

Think about this: so many people don’t want to talk about money, and the result is a population that is hugely under-educated about how the financial system works. Thus, the chaos that was 2009. It’s not polite to talk about how much you make, but if salaries were transparent there wouldn’t be jealousy or backbiting at work. (Probably there still would be; you’d also need a regular, honest, and trustworthy system for reviews, which is another post.)

And sex. I live in a liberated and most liberal bubble and have been largely insulated from feeling Weird or Unhealthy because it’s been easy for me to talk to friends about sex. Wouldn’t it be great if sex wasn’t Evil or Sanctified and Serios (depending on who you talk to), but an awesome part of life people could talk about if they wanted to? (If they want to being the key.)

So coming up are a series of posts (whoa, my first ever series) that talk about talking, what’s polite, what’s ok, and more. I’m doing this because I have so many things I want t talk about and each one deserves it’s own post. I can’t guarantee that they will go in any kind of order or that they’ll be one day after the next, because something awesome might happen that I want to tell you about. But they will all share this title, so you can find them easier.

The kicker is that I have a feeling this is An Issue for Generation Y, in the sense that with the new technologies and an almost-generation-spanning agreement in honesty and forthrightness, as well as a burning desire to change the world for the better, we have an opportunity to make up new rules about what is Polite, what is OK, and what is not.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Conversation Topics for Polite Company

Sometimes I think there must be some kind of cosmic order in the world, God perhaps, because I will hear about the same thing happening in three different scenarios with no link between them what so ever. I say three because as I'm writing this, I'm thinking about the saying celebrities die in threes, which I first heard back when Princess Diana died and have been spookily fascinated with it ever since.

Rationally, I know people just die and things just happen based on zillions of random factors that no one can understand completely. And I understand it seems like there's a cosmic force behind it for the same reason we see patterns in the clouds and shapes in random designs. The human brain likes to MAKE the information its taking in make sense.

The thing that I heard about a bunch of times recently in totally unconnected ways isn't even that big of a deal: a few separate groups of people I know were talking about politics on Facebook with complete strangers. Some of those groups got in fights. Everything is ok now, but it made me think of that Ben Franklin quote my moom drilled into my head when she would send me over other people's houses and wanted me to be able to make friends:

Don't talk about sex, politics, or religion with company. Or something like that.

I suppose the trouble is those are close to the most interesting topics people can talk about. Sex obviously is a very interesting topic, but really, it's largely an extension of the other two. The reason Ben and my mom said not to talk about these things (well not the sex one since I was eight years old I think) is that they:
  • reflect deeply held personal beliefs,
  • often fall along strict divisions with little or no compromise,
  • and others' opinions may seem entirely irrational to you.
BJ reminded me that people tend to think they are anonymous online and that their online persona is different from their "IRL" persona. Which is true, but on Facebook, an image of YOUR face is right next to the words you're typing. And in these cases, it was all young people that I don't think have that kind of separation - they are all online all the time and have been for most of their lives.

Is it a general trend towards polarization in this country? People fee more strongly about what's going on in politics? Is it because religion, politics, and sex are so .tightly .linked .sometimes, and more often today? I'm not sure. I think one factor is that it's easy to type something; much easier than say something to a person's face. But maybe that's for me, talking about this stuff with someone at all is a significant step in my relationship with them and that is less and less the normal behavior.

The big idea here? The way people form relationships online is different from the way they formed relationships without the Internet. We all have to make our own rules. It's bound to be messy at times, but as long as everyone keeps talking, things will work out.

My mom taught me that too!

Monday, February 1, 2010

One Minute to Midnight by Michael Dobbs

This evening, I achieved a major accomplishment: I finished a book for pleasure! Reading after college is another thing I'm adjusting too. I approach every book like its an assignment, flipping ahead to see how many pages until the next break, skimming for the gist of the chapter, procrastinating reading it at all, and then feeling guilty about all of the above. Maybe this is just the way people read, but as part of my greater goal to be more in the moment and work on my focus, I would ideally like to change the way I read. I'd like to absorb each word and each sentence as it comes. I want to think while I read, but also focus on digesting the information as I take it in and being able to remember and reflect.

One step toward that is to catalog my reading notes here as I go. I had this idea several weeks ago, but I was in the middle of One Minute to Midnight by Michael Dobbs and didn't feel like starting up notes right in the middle of a book. So here's my brief review, and then I'll start taking notes on the next one.

This was a great book. I received it as a gift from MC and MC (wow I only just NOW realized they have the same initials??), and was thrilled at their great choice. Who else do you buy a a nonfiction, detail account of the Cuban missile crisis? Me. No one else I know. If anyone wants to borrow it, let me know, and then we should be friends for ever, so I can talk to you about nerdy, historical stuff.

Anyway, this retold the story of how the world came to the brink of nuclear war but didn't jump into the abyss. It's dramatic, almost suspenseful (I mean, you know the ending so not that suspenseful. Right?), and Dobbs paints the characters in this dramatic episode of American history with skill and charm. I think the main reason it took me so long to read (I've been at this since September) is the school approach I've had to reading since graduation. The only other thing I'd complain about it is its breadth of detail. In his efforts to incorporate lots of newly released information and give equal time to many parties, Dobbs' finished product seems somewhat hobbled together and, in places, hard for the casual reader to follow. I felt like I ought to have had a graph or something along side me as I read it to remind myself who's who and what they are doing and why. Though, on the whole, this didn't detract from the overall message I will summarize thusly:

We came pretty fucking close to a full-blown nuclear war. And by close I mean within inches, ok? Any number of tiny events going one way or another could have changed the largely positive outcome of this event. And by largely positive, I mean 100% positive, since the planet WASN'T DESTROYED. If you don't really understand what I mean or just how close, then I highly recommend you read this book and get a whole new perspective.

Ok, as for the next book! I have a pile next to me of options. A few I've read parts of, one I read half of last summer but got overwhelmed in the fall and put it down, and two that intimidate me, but that's what it's all about right? Let me know which you think I should read first, or if you have any other suggestions!
Will update later! Good night!

I'm not that depressing/How to live in the moment

A combination of factors has kept me from posting since my last post about death, the most prominent of which being my lack of discipline when a) I'm overwhelmed or b) when I'm focusing on something else; last week it was exercising regularly for the first time in years. (Made it to the gym five days in a week though, whoohoo!). So whenever I had a second that post would pop into my head and I'd be all "everyone who reads me is going to be all depressed or think I'm all depressed" forgetting that a) I'm not reaching 25,000 people (yet) and b) the point of the post was that death shouldn't be depressing, but inspiring.

Then I saw this today over at Untemplater and had to share. THIS is what I meant, ok? Don't worry about death, guys, it happens to everyone. Be inspired by it. I think my example of enjoying the moments you're picking up dog poop would have been a good addition to the author's list. Especially at 3am in the morning when you have to walk out to the dumpster when all manners of terryfing creatures could be moving about. Isn't that why I agreed to get married in the first place, so there would always be a man to make that trip to the dumpster and face the potential threat of raccoons and rabid squirrels or werewolves?

But I digress.

I read this today as well on WikiHow, a great site for learning (generally) useless but interesting things when you should be doing something else (I know about a lot of these, ask if you need one). Zen driving is really the same concept, just applied to one specific, often stressful, scenario.

Often stressful for me. Remember the time I screamed at CW because I didn't merge in time to take the right exit out of Providence? Or how much I hate traffic? No? Be thankful.

Ways to live in the moment, be more positive, and avoid flipping out:

The tips in the Wiki article about focusing on breathing or the sensation in your hands and feet etc are helpful tools (not necessarily applicable when cleaning up dog poop; thinking about how sick the dog actually feels is more effective, ie, considering the feelings of others. Poor Maddie.). The Untemplater article is more abstract, but I like the idea of asking yourself if this is what you want to do on the last day of your life and watching out for too many no's. Because a few no's are ok; no one wants to go to the OB/GYN on the last day of her life.

There's also making a list of concrete actions to take when you're overwhelmed and freaking out. They've been telling me this since middle school, but breaking down your goals, even those actionable steps, into baby steps is hugely important. And the concept has finally sunken in. Hooray!

And then there's my favorite: thinking of something worse that could have happened. There is always a worse situation you could have to deal with. Like getting your face ripped off by a bear or getting bitten by a shark; use your imagination!

And when all else fails, call me and we'll go get a drink. Because being with other people helps take the focus off yourself and gives you an outlet. Plus alcohol is fun!