Sex, religion and politics – dinner party etiquette says that these are off-limits for discussion.
How does that apply in today’s world of virtual dinner parties – chatting on social media to your friends around the country, and the world, once the kids have gone to bed? There wouldn’t be much happening on Facebook if this antiquated guide to considerate conversation applied today
What’s changed? And does it matter?
I guess it depends on your friends, but yes this trifecta of controversy is a regular topic of discussion in my networks. Hell, we even talk about 1080, haemorrhoids and breast cancer!
There is a change in what is acceptable and, on the whole, I think it’s for the better. The more we talk about topics that make people – make us – uncomfortable, the more we may get our heads around why and get beyond the awkwardness.
Now I’m not suggesting you rush out and pressure everyone who’s not quite there yet to join in challenging chats – letting people share their own views at their own pace is a good start.
That’s really the key – how do we make discussions work for everyone involved. It’s not easy, but there’s an intent behind it that helps. I came across this quote recently by Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön: “We don't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts.”
It was really timely because I saw friends having heated discussions on Facebook and realised some of us were losing sight of how we were impacting others. It may be online, but it can still cause real hurt.
I’ve also already had a similar challenge in my new role as a councillor. I had to point out some language used that made me uncomfortable. I was proud that I managed to make the point at the time, even if “polite society” suggests I’m not supposed to “make a fuss”.
It’s all about how we handle ourselves and as Chödrön, my new favourite writer, says “The only reason we don't open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don't feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else's eyes.”
So that’s my question to myself – how do I speak up, stay kind and find common ground around the council table when I know I will be raising points that may challenge the status quo?
Being honest without being too speedy might be a reasonable way forward – taking a breath before leaping into the breach is good advice. Pausing before responding to someone who’s obviously agitated and, one that I need regular reminding on is, listening with the intent to understand – not just preparing my reply.
Actually, being honest about your feelings and sharing them with others is healthy beyond the workplace – it’s a key in staying healthy mentally as well.
New Zealand’s horrific suicide statistics continue with reports last week saying 579 Kiwis took their lives in the 12 months to July. Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson was quoted as saying we need a society where people felt confident to have "courageous conversations" without feeling judged.
He said: "It's not uncommon for people who feel suicidal to believe their loved ones would be happier without them... it's important to acknowledge that this is profoundly untrue."
If you or someone you love feels like this, make at start at sharing how you’re feeling and seek help.
- Lifeline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 354, Youthline (open 24/7) - 0800 376 633 or free-text 234 between 8am and midnight, or Rural Support Trust - 0800 787 254.