For my write-up today on The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships, I will use as my starting-point something that Temple Grandin says on page 295:
"Some of the 'safe subjects' I talk about are the weather, our surroundings, recent movies, whether or not the person has pets, asking about any hobbies they have, etc. If I'm at an autism meeting, I know I can ask about different therapies or the school program, or books on autism or Asperger's. One of the rules about conversation topics that seems to apply generally in society is there are three subjects you don't discuss with strangers and most people who are not close friends: sex, politics, and religion. People let their emotions get all tied up into those subjects which can result in volatile reactions that are sometimes hard to handle. I have close friends I can discuss these subjects with, but I don't talk about them with strangers. When I was in my twenties, I was obsessed with talking about the meaning of life. I did not realize that most people do not spend hours talking about such a deep subject. Today that's another subject I only discuss with few very close friends."
I think that there may be a place to talk about politics and religion with strangers. But it has to be done in a non-threatening way. Often, in the past, I did not discuss these subjects overly well with people. I did so in a manner that alienated many people from me, though (I have to be honest) I also managed to attract people to me, since they thought that I was smart, or they agreed with what I had to say, or they wanted to debate me. I struggled with social skills----probably less in my high school years than I do now, but I still struggled, and talking about politics and religion gave me a voice, something to talk about with other people. The thing is, a lot of people don't want to talk about deep subjects all of the time, or they do not desire for me to shove my beliefs down their throats.
Sean Barron in my latest reading of this book talks about how he was uncomfortable going out with friends of his parents because they knew a lot about the music industry, and Sean did not know much about that topic and thus felt that he had nothing to contribute to the conversations. Consequently, Sean learned about obscure jazz musicians from almanacs and other sources, and he felt empowered when he talked about these musicians to his parents' friends, who did not know about them.
I can identify with Sean here. I often enjoyed learning facts about, say, Presidents and the Bible, and then dazzling people with my knowledge. In some settings, that helped me out socially. When I was in the fifth grade and my class was doing a trivia exercise on the Presidents, many of my classmates wanted to work with me because of my Presidential knowledge! In certain religious settings, knowing your Bible is considered to be a good thing. But I've learned that knowing facts is not entirely sufficient for social situations. When I went to Harvard Divinity School, I studied the Bible intensively, hoping that my knowledge would help others and that people would be drawn to me. Well, it didn't exactly work out that way! There's a place for interacting with people on a human level----for discussing surroundings, or asking them what's going on in their lives, etc.
Where I struggle socially is that I often don't know what to talk with people about. One thing that Temple in this book recommended as a solution to this is to do different things and have a variety of experiences. And she also referred to safe subjects to discuss: the weather, pets, movies, etc.
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