I’m opinionated. I actually think it’s one of my finer qualities, too. I just like to share what I think and believe with people. If one happens to fall into one of my captive audiences- willingly or not- I would hope they’d understand that they have every right in the world to disagree with me. They just can’t tell me to shut up.

I recently saw a quote that I know I’ve encountered before, but for some reason, it really bothered me this time. It goes,

Religion is like a penis.

It’s fine to have one.

It’s fine to be proud of it.

But please don’t whip it out in public and start waving it around,

and PLEASE don’t try to shove it down my children’s throats.

I don’t have a source for this little gem, but I bet that whoever conjured it up is incredibly proud of their symbolic creativity. And my immediate response would sound something like, “Your face is a …”

Here’s the deal: I could think up a million retorts, but they wouldn’t promote healthy conversation. For the purpose of making my point, I’m going to say that politics and other beliefs are just as phallic as religion.

Unfortunately, people start thinking this way because they’ve encountered humans who don’t know how to have a conversation about faith, who to vote for in the 2012 presidential election, or about whether or not global warming is a farce. My goal right now, is to foster communication about these subjects with a short list outlining what we should do and what we should avoid when talking about sensitive subjects.

1- If you plan on talking, then you ought to listen just as much. People are less offended by what we share than our resistance to hearing their position. Believe me, this can be painful, especially when someone drones on about something so vapid that it makes you want to die, but you owe it to them to hear it out.

2- Don’t insist on being right. More and more, it seems like people are doubting absolute truth, so insisting that your way is singularly correct will likely make you look like a closed-minded idiot. You may actually be right, but nobody will believe that unless you have a way to show them instead of just telling.

4- Don’t attack. Beliefs stem from worldviews- literally meaning the framework on which a person’s existence stands. Do you really think telling them that’s wrong is a good idea? It’s like attacking a castle gate with a pointy battering ram. They will pour hot oil on you then do everything in their power to set you on fire to protect their perspective.

5- Don’t yell. This probably belongs under attacking as a sub-topic, but sometimes we raise our voices as a means of protecting ourselves. Personally, I enjoy yelling at people. I think it’s fun, but that only works in certain contexts. If you stay calm, the person you’re speaking to is more likely to keep their cool too.

6- Don’t insist on winning. Life is only a competition when you’re driving to the supermarket and you are not a professional debater, so you do not have to have the last word or prove someone is wrong. This doesn’t influence anyone as much as it turns them off.

Not every opinion is right, nor is every belief. In fact, there are a crap-ton of ridiculous notions in the world. We have to share with each other so we can weed out the garbage and find something worth holding on to. Ideally we’d get rid of everything except the absolute truth, but this won’t happen until we’re willing to listen to each other. And by the way, I need to practice this, too.