Everyone knows the two things that you’re not supposed to talk about in public are religion and politics. I don’t like this rule.
I think it’s essential that we look at the big picture and ask ourselves the difficult, complex, and controversial questions in life from time to time, especially since we’re engineers. You may deny the importance of politics or dismiss the relevance of religion, but the reality is that political principles and religious tenants have shaped the world and continue to impact our lives directly and indirectly every day. Not only are they important topics to ponder, but it’s necessary for intelligent individuals like us to examine these matters and form our own opinions about them. It encourages critical thinking, forces us to observe the world around us, and helps us build a moral base on which we stand on for the rest of our lives.
So you’ve already done all of that on your own. That’s great. Everything’s fine and dandy when all those opinions and theories are swimming around in your own head, but it’s a whole new matter trying to communicate those thoughts to someone else. That’s when things can get dicey, and if you’re not careful, relationships can be damaged. However, conducted correctly, arguments like these can be excellent simulations that challenge you to adapt, learn to think on the fly, and improve your communication skills. All of these are important life lessons that we have to face sometime down the road. Why not start now, when your mind is at its sharpest?
The key to discussing controversial topics with others is to do so with a courteous and open-minded attitude. If you do that, you have no reason to be afraid to participate in higher thinking with others. Imagine this as an illustration of constructive interference rather than destructive interference. Exchange ideas with the purpose of expanding your minds and developing your theories. Don’t approach the debate with the intent of proving your opponent wrong. Listen, think, then talk. Cite sources that your counterpart will also recognize the validity of (i.e. if your friend is an atheist, don’t use the Bible). Never insult or attack him, but show only the utmost of respect.
At the conclusion of your exchange, neither party should walk away angry. If at some instance you are, come to a point each of you can agree on and end on that. Remember also that this was a learning experience: if you don’t take away anything to think over, the debate was a failure. Go home and rethink your philosophy by forcing yourself to acknowledge the reasons and facts your friend presented and mending your beliefs to accommodate them. This is the whole reason that deep discussions are beneficial: by never sharing your beliefs or making them available for criticism, your core remains untested and weak. You don’t truly grow as a person.
I feel that we do a fairly decent job of this at Rose. Whenever we leave Rose, whether it is for break or after graduation, we should bring that positive but contentious attitude with us. Perhaps someday we can make religion and politics encouraged rather than forbidden topics.