This week I had the good fortune to meet Snowbrush, and participate in a thought-provoking discussion in the comments section of his blog. It all got me thinking about a question that is often on my mind.
Where is the line between tact and self-suppression?
How much of myself am I willing to hide or at least gloss over in the name of social harmony?
If I claim someone as my friend, without knowing for sure whether or not they would still respect me if they knew all of my real opinions, are they actually my friend, or is that an illusion that is just waiting for the right moment to crack?
It is a potentially painful question. I usually err on the side of ignoring it, hoping that my relationships with various people will muddle along without too many overt confrontations. I am a diplomat by nature, always seeking to find common ground; always wanting everyone to get along. I don't like being forced to choose a side, because I don't like to cut myself off from the people on the other side. I mean, aside from sociopaths, we're all only human, just tying to get by and do our best, right? If we can keep that in mind, surely we can at least tolerate each other?
You need a "for example"? Fine. Okay. I will go out on a limb and give you a real one.
I believe that abortion should be legal. I think that it's a horrible, sad necessity. I don't have a firm opinion on what the cut-off date should be, or when exactly a collection of cells stops being an undefined blob and becomes a person. I just don't think that desperate women should have to resort to "home remedies" that might kill or maim them.
I'm not an expert on the subject, and if you are an expert you could probably corner me in a discussion and make me feel extremely uncomfortable. I've never had to face an unwanted pregnancy personally, but I've always felt that I wouldn't be able to bear going through with an abortion. My opinion is mainly based on a documentary film I saw about poor women in a third world country giving themselves abortions, and how awful that was. (This was in my second year of university. I had to leave the auditorium and almost fainted on the way out.) After that point it has always been my gut feeling that the lesser evil is to offer medically safe abortions to women who feel that this is the only option for them. At least then their other kids will have a healthy mom to raise them.
This is not something that I talk about, like, ever. Not least because nice people who go to church (and some others who don't) might be horrified by it, and I have no desire to horrify anyone. I get why people are against abortion. It's not like I'm all "Yeah, go abortion! Kill those babies! Who needs 'em?" I like babies. Under other circumstances I might have had a couple myself.
So, how should one handle these subjects? Sensitively, I guess. And with respect for other peoples' feelings. Even one of my older relatives who can blurt out some pretty racist garbage sometimes deserves my understanding. He's a holocaust survivor. He was a baby in Czechoslovakia when his parents had to make a run for it in the night after the Nazi invasion. They escaped, but most of his parents' immediate and extended family was killed. It messed them up pretty bad. His feelings about "us" vs. "them" didn't evolve in a vacuum. I've never seen him treat an actual individual badly in person due to race; he'll just run off at the mouth making dumb generalizations if he thinks he's in the company of "us" and he can get away with it. I challenge him sometimes, but I have to pick my battles, and I try to do it gently.
I know that we can't all agree on everything. I only wish that people would be more sensitive. I try hard to be tactful, which costs me some significant effort, and then I get frustrated when the favour isn't returned. (Let me be clear that Snowbrush handled our discussion with admirable sensitivity. I was thinking about this stuff because I have an IRL friend who handles the same subject matter with a condescending smirk, and it hurts my feelings.)
How do you handle differences of opinion on hot-button topics? Avoidance? Full steam ahead with your opinion and if they don't like it they can sit and spin? Pretending to agree but seething in silence? If you have any tricks to make it easier, I'd love to know them.