Can You Talk About Religion, Politics, with Friends?

By Xah Lee. Date:

Writing on politics, religion, any sensitive topic, especially fervently, quickly alienate friends, associates. For example, if you wrote in your blog strongly about your opinion on abortion, god, pro/anti USA/China issues, then your friends or acquaintances suddenly found out “O shit this guy insults my God; this guy don't value babies; this guy's anti-freedom”, then, in their minds they put a question mark on you, or simply stop any connection they might have with you.

Avoiding religion, politics, is the number one principle in friend-making and persuasion books. For examples, these 2 well-known books:

Even among close friends, a casual chat on political issues can quickly and unexpectedly get bad and hurt relationship. (a year ago went into a slight argument with my friend professor Richard Palais, about Dalai Lama. I was telling him excitedly about what i found out about what Li Ao said on Tibet issues. I thought he'd totally find it interesting, at least. (after all, his wife is Chinese and he is active in both Taiwan and China's math communities and visit both countries for lectures and conferences every few years, and even speak Chinese well). But turns out he outright considered my findings to be propaganda, and this conversation became a sore point. (both of us are very argumentative, even on math, math software.))

So what to do? Must we simply never discuss political topics among friends? There seems to be something wrong with this state of affair. In some logical sense, if you can't share controversial issues with friends, then they are not really friends. But this way of thinking is not realistic. If you really practice such mindset, you probably will not have many friends. And, here, the question borders on the meaning of “friend”. Even “close friend” is hard to define, and in life, different periods of your life, different walks of life, the concept of “friend” is too varied and far apart. It would make better sense to use terms like “business partner”, “childhood acquaintance”, “co-worker”, “wife/husband”, “sworn pals”, “confidant”, “bed mate”, “lover”, “party buddy”, “neighbor” …etc. Even these relations may change from year to year.

Personally, i have lots of opinions, and, tend to speak out especially on issues that's controversial, because in my mind these are the very issues worth speaking out about, but add to it is the fact that my style is offensive and confrontational.

Thinking about this… One exception, is actually to be a politician, or activist, or related activities, such as a social critic, philosopher. That way, people already know you, or are very prepared, before they'll be offended by your opinions. And in some sense, it's your job, livelihood, with various degrees of professionalism, and friends won't take it personal. Or, put more cynically, your friends would be those who already agree with your views.

mm… good thinking Xah. I always wondered how to deal with this issue. This is a good solution. I hope i'm considered in this critics or philosopher camp, or, should paint myself in that camp. ☺

What do you think?