A Different Party
I was talking with my mom and she said that she loved her sorority. They talked about everything except “how much your daddy makes, religion, and politics.” As fun as it sounds to live in a house with all your friends and have people for you 24/7 to study, live, and talk with, the previous three topics sound like all the good stuff. Those are the conversations that are genuinely lively and bring you fresh perspectives. What if there was a party where the only things you can talk about familial wealth, religion, and politics? I would go to that party. I think I would have a great time at that party and have some deeply fascinating conversations that I only otherwise would have with people after >6 weeks of friendship.
Each person entering the party would be given three stickers: one for religion, one for familial income, and one for political affiliation. The political affiliation sticker would simply have a space to put the name of the party/ideology that resonates with you most, while the other two would be slightly different. Not many people know how much their family makes, so they would take a sticker that has a pre-set range of incomes printed on it. For example, a sticker can read “80,000–100,000” or “40,000–60,000.” We would have to look up income distributions to order enough of the most common stickers. The religion sticker would have one word and one number. The wearer would write whatever religion she subscribes to the most and a number on a scale of 1–5 that signals how large a role that religion plays in her life (1 being the least and 5 being the most). For example, a sample sticker may read “Greek Orthodox 2” or “Ba’hai 4.” With three stickers on a person, we would strive to create the optimal balance between readability and subtly so people will not be dissappointed when their arrive at the party in their cute outfits and suddenly find out they will have to be bathed in stickers.
The goal of this would be to create an environment where these types of intimate, candid conversations can happen without hours of small talk or months of odd quasi-friendship. This is the good stuff. You and I both know the power of these topics to bring people closer together and foster understanding between people of seemingly disparate backgrounds. It may be uncomfortable at first, yes, but I suspect this party would be just as uncomfortable as a regular party to a similar amount of people. In fact, I would predict that it would be much easier to get a lively conversation going at this party than any other.
I admit, there is a reason people avoid these topics in day-to-day conversation. They breed arguments. These are topics that are sensitive to a large portion of the population and encountering opinions that conflict with your set of deeply held beliefs can be especially jarring. However, I believe the success of this party hinges on the self-selection of the attenddees. As soon as you step in the door, you know you will respectfully disagree with some and your own beliefs will be challenged. This knowledge lends itself to a sort of self-awareness of your own emotional state and that of others, and should prevent antagonization and persecution of others at the party. I have faith in people, at least the idea of people that I hold in my head.
I will not comment on how the presence of alcohol will affect the atmosphere of this party because anyone can scarcely predict how alcohol will influence a normal party.
When I said the only things you can talk about at this party will be religion, familial income, and politics, I didn’t really mean that. These are the conversation starters. Every individual is more than that, and those aspects deserve to enter in the conversation as well. My view is that small talk generally benefits those that can say the most and mean nothing, and those aren’t the type of people I want to talk to at a party.