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Worldwide Ace » Conversational Taboos

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Conversational Taboos

3 April, 2008 (18:38) | Social Commentary

I’ve always found it interesting what is and isn’t appropriate to talk about in certain company. I don’t talk politics with my extended family since they’re all republicans and I’m a staunch liberal. When I made a joke about Jesus being gay at a party thrown by a devout Christian friend, he stopped talking to me. My roommate Ironman was adamant that I not use gay in the pejorative, which was a sharp shift from what I was used to growing up in Boston. Whatever the situation, there seems to be a protocol for what you do and do not speak of.

  • Politics and Religion
    One of the most common things I hear people say is that they don’t discuss religion or politics at the dinner table. To me, this seems silly. Why not the dinner table? Does that extend to other meals eaten there? And why not religion and politics? Of all the topics people can discuss, religion is perhaps the most telling. Their belief in a higher power or lack thereof is defined by experiences that have supported their decision. If they subscribe to a religion, it can be an instantaneous sign of insanity or intelligence or compassion or helplessness, depending on what religion is named. As long as no one is deriding the other’s point of view, there’s no reason not to discuss religion.

    Politics, however, can be a little hairier. It’s often relevant even to the atheists among us, and, like religion, it can be telling about a person. Though debates like gay marriage generally comes down to a religious argument and can lose rationality, talking about foreign policy, the war in Iraq, school vouchers, or even local tax hikes to fix roads are great ways to see what someone truly believes. The downside to politics is that a heated argument is even more likely than with religion. In addition, while everyone has a religious view of some sort, not everyone pays attention to politics. There’s always a risk of alienation, but I don’t think it’s any higher than trying to discuss baseball with someone who doesn’t know anything about baseball.

  • The Ex – It’s pretty common knowledge that you shouldn’t discuss former relationships with a prospective one. It’s not like I have a whole lot of these to discuss, but I think the challenges I’ve experienced and the ways in which I’ve reacted can be very telling of who I am.It’s true that it’s a bad idea to pine over an ex on a date, but why not tell the anecdote about how I won the giant stuffed bear at the amusement park only to find out she had acute melissophobia? It’s a funny story, and it involves an ex. I think the key here is to avoid seeming hung up, but given that I still have warmth in my heart for every girl I’ve ever loved even a little, I see no reason to hide it.
  • Racist or Sexist Jokes – So a priest and a rabbi walk into a bar, and while sitting there, they overhear me tell this terrible Jew joke. It angers the rabbi so much, he gets up and slugs me, to which the priest comments that it’s not in the spirit of Judaism to be violent. Catholics, however, are all about beatings, he says, and promptly begins wailing on me.There’s nothing funny about a situation like that. Nor is there anything funny about offending the people I’m with. That being said, if every conversation feels like I have to walk on eggshells, I don’t want to bother. I’m an offensive person. Perhaps not to the level of Tucker Max or even Bill Hicks, but as my friend Prince Valiant said, I walk around life looking for lines to cross. I want to challenge people, and if it starts a conversation about racism or sexism or some other ism, all the better. The primary point of humor may be to make people laugh, but the best humor is that kind that makes people think and discuss as well.
  • Depressing Topics – Death, war, famine, the horrors of the world–all of these are difficult subjects to broach. Much like watching the evening news, they can be sobering and sad. I have several friends who would rather talk about something upbeat, to the point that they interrupt conversations and request something happier. As much as I’d like the world to be a big ball of happiness, it’s not and it never will be. I see no reason to beat around the bush and ignore the difficult issues.The trials we experience in life flavor who we are. My emotional connection to the holocaust is important to me. I despise the idea of others suffering and of causing suffering. These are important things. It may be a depressing topic and perhaps it’s not going to lead to a lot of smiles or laughs, but that’s the way things are. Avoiding the subject isn’t going to change that. In fact, it’ll probably make it worse.
  • Work – When outside of work, you don’t talk about work. It’s kind of like Fight Club in that way. But while I have meaningless soul-sucking day job, many other people do great and important things. If I’m hanging out with a documentarian who’s exploring Haiti, I want to hear about the devastating economic crisis he’s covering. At the same time, if he doesn’t want to talk about it, that’s fine, there are other things to discuss, but if someone’s passionate about their work, it shouldn’t be an issue.I can understand the desire to keep work time and play time separate, but sometimes you can’t avoid it. I’d much rather discuss someone’s work than sit silently as they seethe, needing to vent about it. If I were doing something fascinating and creative, I’d want to talk about it. And despite the fact I’m always worried about what other people think of my work, I’m always better for discussing it.
  • Sex – Personally, I’m in the TLC camp: Let’s talk about sex. But there are lots of people I won’t talk about sex with. Like my grandparents. They’re going to die soon. I don’t want to hasten the Reaper by giving them sordid details. And though there are plenty of ways to talk about sex that don’t include sordid details, I still don’t think there’s a pertinent one when it comes to my grandparents.Sex, however, is an excellent topic to discuss. Especially if there’s hope for more with the person involved in the conversation. Maybe you want some fire and ice play, but he or she’s much more vanilla. Perhaps you have a funky rash (which is not something I’d likely volunteer unless I had to). Regardless, discussing sex is a way to learn the needs, beliefs and desires of the other person. What could be more useful?

It seems like the safe topics are all small talk: background, hopes and dreams, hobbies, education, favorite things. Yes, they’re useful to know, but it’s like listening to a stat sheet.

In Esquire last year, A.J. Jacobs wrote an article about Radical Honesty. It was my first introduction to the movement and it’s not a movement I could truly subscribe to since it bans even the little lies and half-truths that pepper my sense of humor and good will. Still, the idea of complete honesty appeals to me. It always has. And though I find it challenging to avoid omitting truths or avoiding topics that might paint myself in a bad light.

So my question for you, what are your favorite topics and why? And which taboos do you subscribe to?

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  • i generally don’t talk about my sex life in great detail with anyone but the hubby. i used to blog about work but it got me demoted. so now i’ll TALK About work but not blog it. i think all the other topics you covered should be allowed. i hate starting an interesting conversation about freeze drying people as opposed to cremating them and having someone cut it off and tell me i’m morbid. i may be morbid but at least i have somethin’ to talk about that you haven’t heard before…

  • i generally don’t talk about my sex life in great detail with anyone but the hubby. i used to blog about work but it got me demoted. so now i’ll TALK About work but not blog it. i think all the other topics you covered should be allowed. i hate starting an interesting conversation about freeze drying people as opposed to cremating them and having someone cut it off and tell me i’m morbid. i may be morbid but at least i have somethin’ to talk about that you haven’t heard before…

  • My favourite topics tend to be the ones that people have problems talking about. Sex is one of my all time top choices for conversation material. It spans so many thought processes and other subtopics without ever getting boring. But god forbid the prudes out there let slip that they actually, god forbid, like sex, in front of other people.

    The gory details of medical conditions and/or procedures is another one. I like medicine, I find it fascinating. Other people have very weak stomaches when it comes to that stuff, especially if they allow themselves to somehow mentally connect the story I’m telling with the food they’re eating. I have since stopped telling the “Man who ripped his own catheter out while my mom was checking his vitals” story while food is near. And lets not even go into explaining to someone how a “partial birth” abortion is performed. To me it’s just a fact that medicine is messy and brutal, just like the insides of our bodies, diseases, injuries, nature, life etc. I forget that other people don’t want to think about it, since I’ve been entranced by Grey’s Anatomy (the fucking book, people) since I was a kid. In google reader today I shared my “MedTerms Word of the Day” which is Defecation Syncope. I’m waiting for people to, no pun intended, give me shit about it.

    Cussing at work is another one close to my heart. Not to or at customers mind you, that’s unprofessional, but just in general. Cussing still has way to much stigma attached to it. They’re just words. I like them. They feel good rolling off the tongue. Fuck. Say it with me! Fuck.

    The only conversational taboo I subscribe to is “Thou shalt not talk about politics in thy parent’s household” and it’s not for the reason one would think. We’re all so different we’ve gotten into food fights over it (literally). Dad: Non-religious Republican Mom: Communist Me: Centrist Sister: Religious Right. It gets fucking ugly, but otherwise we get along famously. Really we don’t do it because it brings the party down. My dad and I have agreed to cancel out each other’s votes and my mother and my sister refuse to vote and we leave it at that.

  • My favourite topics tend to be the ones that people have problems talking about. Sex is one of my all time top choices for conversation material. It spans so many thought processes and other subtopics without ever getting boring. But god forbid the prudes out there let slip that they actually, god forbid, like sex, in front of other people.

    The gory details of medical conditions and/or procedures is another one. I like medicine, I find it fascinating. Other people have very weak stomaches when it comes to that stuff, especially if they allow themselves to somehow mentally connect the story I’m telling with the food they’re eating. I have since stopped telling the “Man who ripped his own catheter out while my mom was checking his vitals” story while food is near. And lets not even go into explaining to someone how a “partial birth” abortion is performed. To me it’s just a fact that medicine is messy and brutal, just like the insides of our bodies, diseases, injuries, nature, life etc. I forget that other people don’t want to think about it, since I’ve been entranced by Grey’s Anatomy (the fucking book, people) since I was a kid. In google reader today I shared my “MedTerms Word of the Day” which is Defecation Syncope. I’m waiting for people to, no pun intended, give me shit about it.

    Cussing at work is another one close to my heart. Not to or at customers mind you, that’s unprofessional, but just in general. Cussing still has way to much stigma attached to it. They’re just words. I like them. They feel good rolling off the tongue. Fuck. Say it with me! Fuck.

    The only conversational taboo I subscribe to is “Thou shalt not talk about politics in thy parent’s household” and it’s not for the reason one would think. We’re all so different we’ve gotten into food fights over it (literally). Dad: Non-religious Republican Mom: Communist Me: Centrist Sister: Religious Right. It gets fucking ugly, but otherwise we get along famously. Really we don’t do it because it brings the party down. My dad and I have agreed to cancel out each other’s votes and my mother and my sister refuse to vote and we leave it at that.

  • Okay, I know this TOTALLY isn’t the point of the entry, but isn’t “Lets talk about Sex” by Salt-n-Peppa, not TLC?

  • Okay, I know this TOTALLY isn’t the point of the entry, but isn’t “Lets talk about Sex” by Salt-n-Peppa, not TLC?

  • Same difference. Three women, at least one crazy. I rest my case.

  • Same difference. Three women, at least one crazy. I rest my case.

  • Well, I like to disrupt bad thinking. Someone was having a conversation with Max Karson today (yes, that Max Karson) and she was whining about black people not getting over slavery. Something to the effect of “I didn’t do it, why do I still have to hear people complaining about it?” I pointed out that the consequences of slavery were still very evident in society, and Max said something about he though the problems black people faced were the result of people not liking other people who were different, and that the historical fact of slavery had little to do with it. I asked the two of them if they had ever lived in the south or someplace like Detroit. Neither had. I pointed out that I had lived in Alabama and Georgia in the late 50’s and 60’s, and in Detroit in the 70’s and 80’s, and assured them that history most definitely influenced the position of blacks in the US. Possibly it was a bit more than they wanted to hear, but I pointed out that, protected in their white upper middle class world, neither had an accurate perspective on the matter.

    But I draw the line at discussing the details of a baseball game. Watching baseball is one thing, but pretending that it actually matters after the game is over is just too much.

  • Well, I like to disrupt bad thinking. Someone was having a conversation with Max Karson today (yes, that Max Karson) and she was whining about black people not getting over slavery. Something to the effect of “I didn’t do it, why do I still have to hear people complaining about it?” I pointed out that the consequences of slavery were still very evident in society, and Max said something about he though the problems black people faced were the result of people not liking other people who were different, and that the historical fact of slavery had little to do with it. I asked the two of them if they had ever lived in the south or someplace like Detroit. Neither had. I pointed out that I had lived in Alabama and Georgia in the late 50’s and 60’s, and in Detroit in the 70’s and 80’s, and assured them that history most definitely influenced the position of blacks in the US. Possibly it was a bit more than they wanted to hear, but I pointed out that, protected in their white upper middle class world, neither had an accurate perspective on the matter.

    But I draw the line at discussing the details of a baseball game. Watching baseball is one thing, but pretending that it actually matters after the game is over is just too much.

  • I’ll listen to just about anything as long as it is an intelligent comment and not merely rhetoric.

  • I’ll listen to just about anything as long as it is an intelligent comment and not merely rhetoric.

  • last night, i told my housemates about the first time i tried to have sex and couldn’t find the hole, and then about my girlfriend’s yeast infection that came soon after and lasted the rest of the relationship, inadvertently keeping me a virgin for another year and a half. it didn’t lead to much conversation, but did provide a good amount of laughter and amusement. i also enjoyed the half amused, half horrified looks on their faces.

  • last night, i told my housemates about the first time i tried to have sex and couldn’t find the hole, and then about my girlfriend’s yeast infection that came soon after and lasted the rest of the relationship, inadvertently keeping me a virgin for another year and a half. it didn’t lead to much conversation, but did provide a good amount of laughter and amusement. i also enjoyed the half amused, half horrified looks on their faces.

  • You and your female reproductive problems. I will never understand how you stayed with someone with an STD for so long. You’re a better man than I.

  • You and your female reproductive problems. I will never understand how you stayed with someone with an STD for so long. You’re a better man than I.

  • well… she gave really good blowjobs.

  • well… she gave really good blowjobs.

  • In that case, let me amend that statement. I still can’t believe that a girl with an STD stayed with you for so long.

  • In that case, let me amend that statement. I still can’t believe that a girl with an STD stayed with you for so long.

  • ouch!

  • ouch!

  • Kevin Matthews

    If your girlfreind gave it to you I’d hate to see your male yeast infection pictures. http://www.zimbio.com/Yeast+infection+natural+cures/articles/M4LGHLqkWy2/Male+Yeast+Infection+Treatment+Cure+Yeast