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Talking through difficult topics

For many reasons, it seems we’re having a hard time talking with one another these days. As explored in How arguments avoid issues, and Does truth speak for itself?, conversations frequently shift into arguments, conflict and division as we feel our views to be so compelling and important. Within that context, my focus here is emotion and how it seems to be derailing communication and making it challenging to have any conversation that touches on emotive personal or human realities.

In modern life, we’re aware of so much more and connected with so many more through technology and the movement of people. Cultures, experiences, historical issues, differing beliefs and practices are all flowing together; often without a sense of how to embrace that (see Globalised society finding its feet). How aware are we of the many subconscious ideas or assumptions guiding our behaviour and expectations? If we can’t consciously ‘own’ ourselves in that way, how well can communication fare? As in Mirrors we offer one another, processes of identity and relationship seem complex and significant.

Beyond that, society appears to be losing the strong sense of shared values, standards and responsibilities it seemingly once had. As discussed in Antisocial behaviour & the young, it’s daunting to address such social realities; but, with society becoming increasingly individualistic, surely these conversations are exactly the ones we must find a way to approach.

Returning to emotion, it seems at times people’s own emotions around a subject overtake them, spilling over into the social aspects of conversation where disagreement is met with moral judgement, social condemnation, or whatever socio-emotional weaponry might sway you to change your thinking. At other times, the emotional life of a listener may render frank discussion impossible through sensitivities arising out of personal experience.

In all of this, divergent perspectives in life make it hard to talk effectively. Modern discourse seems to arrive at this impasse where we face a battlefield of unresolved issues, strong emotions, and finely crafted arguments. Do we avoid topics to minimise social conflict and personal pain, or are feelings simply a part of life that need to be respected then managed constructively? Could varied experiences become an enriching source of strength and awareness, instead of divisive wounds? Is there a way to acknowledge our convergent paths to this point, yet continue to talk?

For whatever reasons, society and individuals seem less stable these days. Maybe it’s the rapid changes of modernisation, undermining social structures in unforeseen ways. Maybe it’s the influx of information, unsettling our inner lives in ways that simply didn’t used to exist. Maybe it’s the struggle to process all we’re now aware of, including the wounds inflicted by recent times.

Whichever path we took, we’re apparently in this somewhat uncharted territory where we must find a way to establish productive dialogue. I’m not saying that’s easy, but it seems we sorely need new ways to relate to one another; hopefully managing differences in a way that unites rather than divides us all.

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