Despite the adage, “If you want to get along with strangers, don’t talk about politics or religion,” I assert the two things everybody wants to talk about these days are politics and religion. Politics and religion are often divisive, but almost always engaging and entertaining.
I recently owned a restaurant, where I hosted people of all persuasions and levels of interest. Most folks were casual about both. I discovered four basic categories that almost everyone else fell into.
First, there were people who didn’t know much about anything. At the end of that spectrum were those who thought the US government was headquartered somewhere in Washington, but they weren’t sure if it was the state up in the top left corner of the country or the District of Columbia. Wait, they weren’t aware of a District of Columbia, but they did remember something about a Washington “DC”. It’s close to New York and Chicago. Isn’t it?
They were often, but not always, the same crowd that thought Islam was a branch of Judaism, and Jesus’ last name was Christ. They were easily engaged, quickly bored, but often genuinely curious and receptive. They knew politics and religion affected their lives. And, they almost always chided themselves for not taking them more seriously. On the whole, they didn’t like to engage because they felt stupid.
Second, there were those who didn’t know what to think or who to believe. They lost interest or became cynical because what they were told or taught turned out to be wrong or undependable. From climate change to evolution, those in authority seemed clearly out of touch with contemporary reality. Professional politicians and clergy talked down to them concerning things they obviously knew little about. Because I said so didn’t win over many of these potential converts. They didn’t like to engage because they felt confused.
Third, there were people of conviction who were sincerely dedicated to their political party or religious denomination. They could quote laws and codes or scriptures and creeds. They had an answer for everything, so nothing was up for debate. They were right and those who disagreed were foolish or rebellious. They didn’t like to engage because they felt superior.
Fourth, there were folks who knew what they believed and didn’t want to upset the cart. They didn’t want to hear the sound of glass breaking in the kitchen or the dining hall. If everyone ate civilly, quietly, and quickly, we could go all home full, and no one would have difficulty falling asleep. They didn’t want to engage because they felt content.
All that accounts for about twenty percent of the customers I saw. The vast majority were not only open but eager to hear other viewpoints and share their own among those who were open and respectful. So, I say, speak out in public. Have a good time and make new friends. But, beware of the twenty percent who don’t want to engage and just say a cordial, “Hi”.