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The Problem of "Problem" Topics

I'm a very open person when it comes to details that many people seem to consider too personal to talk about comfortably. That's not to say that go out of my way to talk about violence, sexuality, or the frailty of human existence with random people, but I don't shy away from the subjects if they come up in the natural course of a conversation. I'm willing to put up some veils if the other person becomes uncomfortable, but as far as I'm concerned, the onus is on them to make that clear because you shouldn't ask questions that you don't want to hear answered.

Unfortunately, while that's all well and good for a private and direct conversation, it's easy to lose context and nuance when trying to talk about the same things over a broader medium, like a blog post. Even if I had regular commenters, I wouldn't be surprised if any ensuing discussion would be far more likely to get lost in pointless bullshit rather than actually adding something to the topic at hand. It's an annoying phenomenon. It's probably also unhealthy on a societal level to treat core elements of natural life as being taboo. Maybe if people as a whole were more willing to speak openly and listen to what each other had to say instead of rushing to find moral high grounds from which to cast judgment, there'd be less actual violence and pain in the world.

Maybe I'm just a freak chafing against my leashes right now, but I'd like to think there's more to what I'm saying than that.

I've known a good number of people who had personal histories with problem topics. I've been friends with a substantial portion of that number, but I didn't need to like a person to acknowledge that they were all as much products of genetic chance and circumstance as anyone else. If they wanted to talk about it, I was willing to listen. If they didn't, I didn't intentionally force the issue. I can't say if that was the best way to handle it from a psychiatric standpoint, but as a person, I think everyone is entitled to respect until they do something to lose it.

I've also been fortunate enough to have other who've reciprocated that approach. Again, I don't have any psychiatric expertise, but my personal experience is that it feels good to be heard. Sympathy or empathy can be a nice bonus, but just being able to speak to someone who wouldn't try to shut me down or invalidate what I was saying was invaluable. That's not to say that they were just a passive audience, but rather that they didn't try to brush me off and treated me like a regular person. The friend who I reference in the dedications of my two books was one of those people. Without her, I wouldn't be who I am today. I likely wouldn't be.

And yet, when I see people using online platforms to share their experiences, presumably in efforts to raise awareness and potentially help others, most of the reactions fall into one of two categories.

One group is the high horse riders, prancing around their glass houses with a sack full of stones. I'm not going to waste time on why they're being assholes.

The other is people ostensibly trying to be supportive, talking about how brave and strong the speaker is to say what they did. Speaking for myself, that's not helpful, either. If I'm being open and honest, don't try to drown me in roses. Be open and honest in return. If I'm jumping to dumb conclusions, call me out and show the evidence. If I'm saying something dangerous, challenge me to be better. If I'm laughing at myself because I can see how ridiculous I'm being despite being unable to stop, don't be afraid to laugh along with me. Having another voice agree that I am being ridiculous is far more grounding than being given hollow thoughts and impotent prayers (I say this as a facetious reference to the stock phrase; I've had religious friends say they'd pray for me, and while I'm not religious, the thought behind the gesture was appreciated).

There's a difference between being supportive and being sycophantic or enabling. It shouldn't be hard to see. And to be fair, I've seen those sorts of reactions, too, but they often get dog-piled by the former two groups.

Does that mean I'm going to start talking about "problem" topics on here? Honestly, probably not. There are plenty of people who're far more qualified to speak about them in a productive way. I might need to check the fit from time to time, but I've grown accustomed to my leashes.

So what's the point of this post? Aside from just letting off some steam, I hope it's given some people the encouragement to actually be helpful. In my experience, having a genuine conversation is more meaningful than just being nice.


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