Ask dinner party guests the biggest cliche of topics to steer clear of, and of course they will answer religion, politics, or money. Ask teachers why they shy away from controversial topics in the class, and they’ll answer that conversations can get too heated, unpredictable, and uncontrollable. Some bloggers and writers even make it their personal mission to avoid these topics so they don’t offend any current or potential readers. I’ve been thinking about this, and I adamantly disagree with the notion that we should avoid controversy. Instead, I think we SHOULD discuss controversial topics because the more we talk about it, the more we learn how to have productive conversations instead of stubborn showdowns.

We need to learn the tools to participate in these conversations; we need to push ourselves to be educated on these topics instead of clinging onto unfounded, obstinate opinions; we need to learn to open our minds and hearts to hearing other points of views, practice thoughtful consideration, and tactful responses to disagreements.

Why You Shouldn’t Avoid Controversy

The problem with avoiding controversy

By staying away from controversial topics, we say that we don’t trust ourselves or others to hold an intelligent, productive conversation. The thing is, I understand why people avoid it; I have been a part of various conversations that escalate to such negative, unproductive, ugly places that it doesn’t even feel worth it. Members of the “conversation” aren’t actually discussing – they know their talking points and stick to them tenaciously. Controversial means “marked by or capable of arousing disagreement.” Why do we disagree about things? Because they are important! Instead of seeing controversy in a negative light, we need to embrace the opportunity to hold these important discussions. We take for granted everyday that we have unlimited access to news and education. We take for granted that we have the right and ability to freely discuss any topic. Let’s expand our minds, open our ears, and trust ourselves to be intelligent members of a conversation, shall we?

Controversy helps us learn

Controversy can be a useful, powerful, and memorable tool to promote learning. As Hamlet said, “What is a man/ If his chief good and market of his time/ Be but to sleep and feed?” Basically, if all we do is eat, sleep, and go through the motions on a surface level, what is the point? Research shows that controversial discussion can promote cognitive advances in complex reasoning, thinking, and decision-making. You need these skills no matter who you are: as a student, in the workplace, as a parent, and really anywhere in your daily lives. Stretch yourself, possibly out of your comfort zone, to practice these high-level skills.

Discussion best practices

You are an independent thinker: challenge yourself, your beliefs, and what society tells you. Open your mind and pause and think before speaking. Ask yourself why you hold certain beliefs and opinions. Really dig deep – where does it come from? Are you following a belief because it’s how you were raised? Do you believe in something because it’s simply tradition? Do you hold opinions out of fear without truly educating yourself unbiasedly? When questioned about your belief, do you feel attacked and answer, ‘that’s how I feel, and I have a right to feel this way’? Chances are you will benefit from this interpersonal pondering.

Opposing views: when someone thinks differently than you, listen to why they hold those views. Do not attack them. Listen carefully to the other point of view, and ask questions. Even if you do not agree, if you can restate or argue for that position, you have actively listened, so kudos to you. Different doesn’t mean better or worse, it just means different. My high school speech teacher told me this, and I always liked it. It wasn’t until I went to college, became an independent thinker, and matured a bit that I understood the true value and beauty of that quote.

Explore other possibilities: we like to hold onto beliefs or traditions, often to a fault. Put stubbornness aside and expand your mind in the quest for learning and deeper understanding. There is value in knowing what you don’t know; explore what you don’t know and set new learning goals. When I started doing this, it was a little scary at first, but it is also so freeing to follow your own mind and heart, even in the face of opposition, such as choosing to keep my name after marriage.

Exercise tact and grace: controversy has a way of taking even the most mild, polite, tactful person and turning him or her into a truly dreadful, nasty troll (not the cute kind with a jeweled belly button and pastel hair). Exercise your unique powers that come with being a human, and do not shut down and turn foul in the face of opposition. You are smarter and far more lovely than that. Prove it.

“You can’t argue with stupid”: while I don’t like using the word ‘stupid’ to describe someone, I do believe in this saying. If someone is unwilling to participate in a controversial discussion in an engaging, intelligent, calm, and respectful way, you can’t really argue with them. You can suggest ways they can learn about the topic and encourage them to read this blog post, but ultimately there are some people who are not ready or willing to look inside themselves and understand and question their values. At that point, retain your dignity and respect, and politely redirect the discussion.

How do you deal with controversial topics that go awry? Are you comfortable discussion controversy?

  • Jackie

    Totally agree. We can learn a lot from these discussions and it shows us that we should always be open to other people’s point of view.

    • Lindsay Katherine

      Glad we’re on the same page!

      • Jackie

        Me too! And honestly we shouldn’t be afraid to speak out for what we believe in, even if it is not the “popular” opinion in some cases.

  • Oh my goodness, I totally agree with you! It’s so frustrating that the biggest reason to avoid controversy is to keep people from getting upset with one another. I wish people would just be willing to have civil conversations, listen to one anothers views and, if necessary, just agree to disagree!

    • Lindsay Katherine

      Exactly – there is nothing wrong with disagreeing!

  • Jaime Blunier Groleau

    I agree to the point that everyone can have an adult conversation or a calm debate. Otherwise there is no point to having a controversial debate besides ending in a war or building hard feelings and resentment towards each other. The key is having everyone learn HOW to discuss controversial topics.

    • Lindsay Katherine

      Yes, so true. If we don’t have the tools to learn how to discuss, it’s pointless. I spend a lot of time teaching the how in school, but I don’t know if adults are interested in learning on their own necessarily 🙂

  • I’m not too interested in engaging in controversial conversations with acquaintances and polite company, and that’s one of the reasons I find FB so annoying lately. No one’s going to change his or her mind, and most people are, as you said, incapable of having a respectful conversation about hot topics. I’ll talk about these things with my family and best friends, but that’s about it 🙂

    • Lindsay Katherine

      That’s such a great point! Social media can be a really bad outlet to “talk” about controversial topics because you are not, in fact, talking. People use their computers to hide behind, and I don’t think you should say something online that you wouldn’t in person. I’m mainly coming at this from an educational perspective because I’m teaching my students how to research, question, and respectfully discuss, but I do find value in discussing these topics with, like you said, close family and friends.

  • Shann Eva

    I’m not opposed to controversial topics, but I think there is a place for them. I really don’t think Facebook is one. Things escalate quickly, and you can’t catch the person’s tone or emotions from what they write.

    • Lindsay Katherine

      I completely agree. These conversations are appropriate for in-person discussion, not social media.

  • Cindy @HometownQueenBee

    You made really good points in this post and i totally agree with you…tact and grace are the important factor. I like to discuss, not argue 🙂

    • Lindsay Katherine

      Yes, exactly!

  • Oh man, could this be more relevant for this week? I was so nervous to write my post about the refugee situation this week for some of the reasons you mention here. I feel like conversations in person give you a lot more chances to show grace but on the internet people can just be so vicious. Intelligent discussion of issues is so important though and I’m so glad you’re encouraging people to engage in it in tactful, respectful ways!

    • Lindsay Katherine

      I loved your post this week!! But I totally get it – writing about controversial topics can be tricky because you can’t read tone, and then when people respond, they can respond in ways they wouldn’t if you were face to face. So proud of you though – really well done.

  • I’m usually comfortable speaking about something deemed as controversial but what I don’t like is when someone disagrees and begins to make personal digs. That is usually a sign the other person can’t handle controversy or anyone disagreeing with them. When it gets to that point, even if I wasn’t involved in the conversation, I walk away because I know there won’t be any getting through to the person.

    • Lindsay Katherine

      That is so true; something I meant to include is that we can disagree with ideas, not people themselves. When it gets personal, it gets ugly, that’s for sure.

  • I agree with all of these.
    I sometimes try to avoid controversy because people tend to take it too far and get too personal and that is just very unproductive.

    xoxo, Jenny

    • Lindsay Katherine

      Sometimes I try not to engage for that very reason; I wish people would read this and really think about it in order for us to have those conversations!

  • Paige Allison

    YES to this whole blog post! You know I don’t avoid controversy, per my last blog post. But frankly, I DO avoid bloggers to always stick to fluffy content to avoid it. I’m also not friends with people who “don’t like to stir the pot” or try to avoid confrontation. No, let’s talk about it! Get it out there in the open! That’s where we can learn from each other and grow as humans. It actually scares me when people are always demure and agreeing – I know not everyone agrees with me all the time, so tell me about it! The quiet ones are the people (or “friends”) who talk behind your back and aint nobody got time for that.

    Your last point is your best one, I think. When people hear something they don’t like, often times they immediately get defensive and shut it down. I myself did this until I was 25-26 years old! But again, when you have that immediate defensive reaction, usually it’s a great indicator that you NEED to listen and examine what’s going on inside you, because what’s being said is speaking to you and something inside you that you don’t like. Instead of blocking it out, listen and grow! Alas, not all people are at that level of maturity. Great post, girl. Xoxo

    • Lindsay Katherine

      ahhh Paige, I love you! A blogger after my own heart : ) I loved your last blog post, and frankly, all of your posts. Why does stirring the pot have to have a bad connotation? In what way is stirring the pot ever a bad thing…in cooking hahaha. It’s necessary! Stirring the pot doesn’t have to mean senseless arguing, and I agree with you – it’s slightly alarming when ‘fluffy’ people are 100% fluff and demure at all times. I know there are opinions in there, so tell me! Even if they are different from mine, that’s even better. I always tell my students that, too – our class and discussions will be reallllly boring if we all think alike. I am also the same as you, that it took me well into my 20’s to actually (somewhat) master these tools. Thanks so much for reading : )

  • Heather Gullett Denniston

    My husband has a saying “I have no capacity for schmultz” when referencing shallow people or relationships. I am also agree that I cannot do life with people who don’t want to dig deep and with that controversy or robust discussions will always come up! Thanks for this post!

    • Lindsay Katherine

      I love your husband’s saying! haha. Sure, deep controversial issues do not need to be the center of everything conversation, but there is no need to avoid them – embrace it!

  • I totally 1,000% agree with you! I’ve had a blog post topic like this sitting on my “to-write” list but I never got around to it because I couldn’t decide if I even wanted to discuss current events on my blog. I studied journalism in college so I’m a news junkie, but I can’t decide if I want to include that in my blog. I would love to hear how you do it (and if I may add, you do it so well) and what the response has been!

    • Lindsay Katherine

      You should definitely write your blog post! I would love to read it, so make sure you share it with me when you get to it. I was an English major in college – what do you do now? I chose to write about things that are either relevant now (Scandal) or things I have passionate about (keeping my last name). If I have a point of view or think something should be discussed and I want to learn or hear different perspectives, I will write about it. Not to rant though; I really try to not do that. I get people who agree and disagree with me, which I love – the world would be a sad place if we all thought the same things. Some people have gotten pretty heated in their comments against me, but I always exercise tact and come from a place of learning and positivity.