How do you talk about deal-breaker topics?

Guest post by Jules
how to argue about deal breaker topics
I really just want to tell you shut the fuck up. (Photo by: Celia ChamizoCC BY 2.0)

We all have certain values, beliefs, and opinions that are somewhat non-negotiable for each of us as a person — unique to our own makeup of upbringing, education, and personal experiences.

(Un)Fortunately, we can’t always convince everybody to agree with our personal brand of freedom and equality. Also, there are people with whom constant fights about personal values are not recommended, or people who simply refuse to allow any kind of discussion — parents, colleagues, customers, acquaintances, hell even people you consider friends.

By now I have realized that screaming “This is so unfair! Why don’t you want to understand?” is not the smartest way to begin any kind of conversation. Yet, there are topics where this is pretty much my default reaction.

How do you cope with constant mentioning of idealogical deal breakers — homophobic, racist, misogynic, and many other discriminatory comments — with people you can’t necessarily break things off with?

In the past, other Homies have talked a lot about communicating. The Offbeat Empire has also offered great advice on:

But what do you do if your boss/in-laws/neighbor constantly complains about homosexuals/immigrants/women/etc? I don’t really want this to be another lesson in “you need to learn when to let go,” because I can’t.

Okay, Homies: how do you discuss deal-breaker values with people you’re stuck with?

Comments on How do you talk about deal-breaker topics?

  1. My mother was only the 5th woman to join a government agency in our state and put up with predictably enormous amounts of misogynistic crap. She did keep her mouth shut for the most part, but she didn’t let it go. She worked really hard for 35 years. She just retired and got a call from one of the men who was most against her when she started. It turns out he felt honor bound to call her and tell her that he was wrong. She convinced him that she was fit for the job and he realized that if she was, other women were too. This was the clearest example of the effect she had, but a lot of men spoke at her retirement party to say how much respect they had for her and her work ethic, and these were all men brought up to believe that women belonged at home.

    I guess what I’m saying is that sometimes you can’t confront people directly, but you can show them with your actions that they might not be right!

  2. It’s important to realize a few things about yourself and about the other person.

    Firstly, to quote an earlier commenter who wrote it well: “People don’t always speak eloquently, or clearly say what they mean, leaving what they say up for interpretation or understanding different intentions.”

    Secondly, just because you think you’re right and you think they’re wrong, doesn’t mean that is true. It means you have different opinions. If more people were open to the idea that perhaps there are things they could learn more about (shocker!) it may at the very least help them understand other people’s point of views (even if it doesn’t change your actual opinion).

    Also, please remember the whole “Do unto others as you would like done unto you” saying. You are entitled to your opinion, but you have no right to judge/discriminate someone else’s opinion. Being hateful toward someone (or a group’s) beliefs you consider hate makes you hateful just like them.

    Religious is the easiest example, so I use that: Remember that bigotry against religion is still bigotry. It IS discrimination. I’m not sticking up for the discrimination religious people dole out, but that doesn’t mean that I would try to punish them for it. That is not a popular thought nowadays, but everyone regardless of political/religious/social views needs to think about that. You punishing someone is the same as them doing it to you, regardless of motives. Understand that I am talking about beliefs and opinions, not actions.

    People who actively discriminate is terrible, but just because someone SPEAKS their opinion and that opinion differs from yours doesn’t necessarily mean they are a terrible person. There are terrible people, this I know, but for example just because my religious grandparents are racist and against gay marriage doesn’t make them bad people; it makes them a product of a different generation and a belief system different than my own.

    I may choose to limit conversation with them on those topics, and other commenters have said that they’ll stick to writing rather than speaking altogether, which is fine, but I have a problem with people judging my grandparents just like I have a problem with my grandparents judging my beliefs.

  3. My friends and I differ on many views, but I think we always make sure our conversations start and end with the belief in love and dignity for all people. If someone is being rude, just shush them up with a quick, “Well we don’t have to agree, but in the end isn’t it all about treating people well, and giving them love and respect?” If they disagree with that part, then I would probably slowly disassociate from them.
    As a fairly hardcore Catholic I admit to having very conservative views about things. However, I have only had a problem with 4 people in the past, none of whom I was close to and we accidentally stumbled into topics best left for “deeper discussions” rather than a quick chat over the water cooler. I am sure if we had the chance we would have been able to discuss our views without it getting tense if we had had more time or we were in the right environment.

  4. I just (like, less than 24 hours ago) went through a breakup because of this very topic. Unfortunately he and I didn’t know how to compromise or just be “okay” with the other person’s views…religion, political issues, even how we view topics like mental illness.

    When it comes to relationships, how do you know when your differences are too many and too important to ignore or look over? At what point do those topics become things that simply can’t be worked out? I simply refuse to discuss certain topics with family members, and luckily I have a close circle of friends that I can have a civil, respectful conversation with on any topic, whether we agree or disagree. But with most others, I can’t seem to find a way to ever have a positive conversation about controversial subjects where there’s disagreement.

    I believe the formula for such a thing is this: “to each their own”. Meaning, as long as there’s respect for the other’s opinion no matter what and that both parties agree to disagree without trying to change the other’s view or tell them they’re wrong, everything usually ends up fine. The problem is when only one party acknowledges that background rule.

    That’s where my relationship failed. I have a hard time with the fact that so many people in this world refuse to just let others be, as they are. Ultimately you can’t make the other person accept you on the things they disagree with you about. That’s their choice, and there’s not a whole lot you can do.

  5. If it’s at work I simply tell them that it isn’t an appropriate conversation for the workplace and remind them of upcoming tasks to redirect them. If it’s in my home I will say outright “You can have your opinions but in this house we don’t use that language.” If I am in someone else’s home I try to redirect the conversation. If that isn’t possible I just don’t participate in the conversation if I can’t just leave. If I’m out in public and I’m with the person I’ll straight up call them out.

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