Cultural Sensitivity III

Posted: March 8, 2012 in Batteries Not Included

Just to follow up on the issues raised in the comments – I agree, it’s hard to know what we can talk about with new friends without knowing their background and circumstances. One example that was cited was a girl who might be hurt if I complimented her on her eyes, because she’d gotten comments about them being like Sharpie slits. OK, I get that.

But then… what *can* we talk about? What are safe topics? I don’t think I’d want to ask how school is going, because the person might be contemplating suicide because he’s just received his rejection letter from Stanford. I wouldn’t ask about family, because maybe she’s being sexually abused by her father or step-brother. I definitely don’t want to ask someone if they have kids, because maybe they’ve been having trouble conceiving and it’s a sensitive issue. I’d be hesitant to ask about work, because who knows who’s been laid off these days. I know these topics are no longer culturally related, but they do bring up the issue of unknown history.

I’m not being facetious or sarcastic, but really.. what can we talk about nowadays that won’t trigger a backlash? The weather (with all due respect to the tornado victims)?

  1. Jeiji says:

    Huh, I don’t know! I but I would and usually start with someone knew like: “Hey, so what’re your hobbies?” if I want to get to know them, or even more superficial, and will LEAD to what I can be sensitive about: “How are you doing?”, haha. I can’t think of a better starter, because then they’ll answer with what… well… how they feel! Then you can either take a chance to ask even more, or shine to them with positivity. Even better, it might even provide an opportunity to know things about them very soon. Then, you’ll know what you CAN and CAN’T say to that person, and better shine to them. Dass mai teikonit.

  2. Robert Birch says:

    i’ll definitely defer to Jeiji on this one because he’s got a *very* empathetic heart. (More on that in a minute.)

    These are comments i try to avoid:

    1) Don’t be funny.
    “Better is a man who throws firebrands, arrows, and death than he who offends his brother and says, ‘Was i not joking?'”

    2) No comments about their name.
    i remember the first time i met Dora. i said, “You mean like the Explorer?” Yeah, she’d heard it before. (This is kind of a corollary to #1 — i try to be funny, but i’m not.)
    Once there was a guy at the coffee house, i don’t remember his name but something like “Sue.” One person one introduced, and they were like, “Really?” i was introduced… “Sue? Really?”
    Jeiji talked to him for quite a while, and in the end the brother said, “Hey, thank you for not saying anything about my name.” The implication being that practically everyone he has ever met *has* said something about his name.

    3) No comments on height (or lack thereof), weight, muscles, or any other physical characteristic.
    A.O. and K.T. say everyone asks them if they play basketball. Kind of like name jokes… yes they’ve heard it before.

    4) Along with #3, no comments on clothes, shoes, hair, or anything else about their appearance.
    Samuel wasn’t rebuked for looking down on someone for their appearance; he was rebuked for respecting it. i’m afraid that by complimenting a sister on her appearance i would reinforce the notion that this is where her worth lies, and it just ain’t so.

    • Jeiji says:

      Wooow, these are excellent points! Could you provide verses on those?

      • Robert Birch says:

        Sorry i misquoted the verse out of Proverbs, the word is “deceives”, not “offends”.

        Proverbs 26:18-19
        18 Like a madman who throws
        Firebrands, arrows and death,
        19 So is the man who deceives his neighbor,
        And says, “Was I not joking?”

        1 Samuel 16:6-7
        6 When they entered, he looked at Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’S anointed is before Him.” 7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for [b]God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

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