Taboo topics: why are they so hard to discuss?

Donald Trump, Brexit, Vaccines, Muslims….and the list goes on.

Recently I have observed or participated in conversations that are ‘red hot’ and extremely polarizing. These topics have the ability to make otherwise intelligent and civil people’s blood boil. In many instances vitriol, abuse and hate is exchanged, all in the name of being ‘right’.

When this happens it is clear that both parties stop listening to the other side and progress halts or even regresses.

So what is going here?

Up until the age of 7 our minds are like a tape recorder – what we learn is effectively absorbed unfiltered and without question, this means it becomes our ‘truth’. This is when we all develop our own sense of ‘right and wrong’, but of course, our individual experience makes this different for everyone.

One person’s sense of right might be ‘never to tell a lie’ another’s is ‘white lies are ok’. These views form part of our subconscious and our sense of identity very early on in our development. Because these identities can include having a ‘faith’ or not, being a conservative or being a liberal or being pro-life or pro-choice, these points of view initially sit in our unconscious mind, which means they go unquestioned and are very, very hard to shift.

This is why religion, politics, sex or our sense of right and wrong are such ‘push button’ subjects. They go to the very heart of our ‘identity’ which is directly linked to our ego. It is our EGO that feels threatened when we hear or see things that question our identity.For example, if you come from the medical establishment and have always believed in the medical model for patient healthcare, simply hearing others question the safety of vaccines can be enough to send you into a rage (and vice versa)!

Our EGO (also known as our false sense of self) makes a lot of automatic and unhelpful assumptions, such as, ‘if Sam is part of Group A he must believe ABC, and that is offensive because I am in Group B and believe XYZ’. As you can imagine the ‘voice of doubt’ which is triggered by our EGO will have a field day with this sort of self-talk.

But what if I am genuinely right and the other side is wrong, I hear you say?

As philosopher Eckhart Tolle said, there is nothing that strengthens the EGO more than the need to be right. For you to be right, someone must be wrong and that is where the EGO gets it’s power. Life is rarely black and white and if we allow our EGO to take over, we close our eyes and ears to all of the shades of grey in between.

We just stop listening.

We can still openly listen to another’s perspective, and still walk away holding the same view we started with.

So what do you do about it?

It is good to take a step back and list what topics will push your buttons. By doing this when you are calm, you will create a new level of self-awareness, so the next time you are confronted by such a topic, you will start to see how you automatically react to certain subjects and discussions.

By doing this when you are calm, you will create a new level of self-awareness, so the next time you are confronted by such a topic, you will start to see how you automatically react to certain subjects and discussions. Once this awareness grows with practice, your automatic reactions will soften and allow you to more actively engage in these ‘hot’ topics, without being easily offended or taking the views of the other side personally.

Once this awareness grows with practice, your automatic reactions will soften and allow you to more actively engage in these ‘hot’ topics, without being easily offended or taking the views of the other side personally. Once we sideline the EGO and stop taking things so personally, our ability to influence increases along with our ability to be creative and potentially find solutions and new ways of being that we would never have thought possible.

Once we sideline the EGO and stop taking things so personally, our ability to influence increases along with our ability to be creative and potentially find solutions and new ways of being that we would never have thought possible.

Taboo topics can be difficult to manage in the workplace, Samuel Eddy is a Mental Health and Wellbeing Expert, Corporate Trainer and Executive Coach, who can assist managers formulate strategies to allow productive conversations and policies whilst avoiding conflict, speak to Samuel about corporate training programs for workplace health and wellbeing, as well and group and individual executive coaching today.

Samuel.eddy@openchange.com.au