Tact: Some Got It, Some Don't
I read an great post today about infertility and sensitivity towards women going through it.
If you're interested, you can find it here.
It made me think more about the lack of sensitivity and tact most people have towards others than anything. Opinions are often bred out of our convictions and that makes us passionate about them. If you believe something is true then you are not going to waiver when discussing it with someone else. That's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it's good to have well thought strong opinions that aren't easily changed. It shows you've put time and good reasoning into them.
I'm not advocating conversations where you just agree with another person no matter what they say. I'm not advocating stubbornness either. Part of a fair discussion is having the grace to listen with an open mind and try to both rid yourself of bias and understand the other persons perspective. Occasionally you'll find they've brought up something that you weren't aware of before that may eventually (after some thought and research) change your mind on the matter. Other times you have to agree to disagree, because while you understand where they are coming from, you cannot agree with their conclusions.
But sometimes the subject at hand is not abstract. It's personal. When you talk with someone about politics or philosophy---you're talking about things that may get very heated, yes, but unless you are talking to the politician directly, it's not really personal. A personal belief yes, but not usually tied to your sense of self. It's just how you feel about something outside yourself.
Whether it be sexual orientation, family planning, or just health and nutrition---they are deeply personal issues. That doesn't mean you have to agree with them...but it does mean that you are dealing with a human being, a personal belief system, and things that are not easily separated from the person themselves. Talking to your Republican neighbor about President Obama's achievements is not the same as talking to your obese neighbor about whether or not their condition is self inflicted or genetic. When it's personal, it's the perfect setting for offense and hurt---for the person you are talking to to feel attacked.
I'm trying to realize that even the things I'm impatient with, like bitterness and denial, are often products of pain. As much as I want to "set the person straight," that may not be what they need. A lot of times they already know what they're doing and it's not what they need to hear. Whether it seems small (like making insensitive jokes) or large (correcting someone on something you think they are totally wrong about)---Tact, people. This is coming from someone who is part of a family who doesn't have a whole lot of it so in no way am I claiming to have mastered the art of being sensitive. I've certainly been insensitive towards family members many times. But tact is not genetic, it's a choice.
I'm not saying that we need to avoid difficult topics or not stand by what we believe. I'm am saying that when you are dealing with things that are deeply personal, there is a level of tact and sensitivity that needs to be present.