In the EA context, I often experience difficulties in discussions about emotionally loaded topics. The following examples are real situations I have been in or been told about, in some cases modified for understandability.
Example 1 - Gender Interest Differences:
There is a discussion in the EA local group about gender interest differences. Bob quotes Scott Alexander making the point that "women tend to be interested in people-ish topics" and "men tend to be interested in system-ish topics". Being a woman in tech and very interested in "systems", Alice gets a little afraid that the others might not see her as a "true woman". She is irritated at herself because this is silly, but she still feels a bit angry and compelled to argue against this "system vs people" distinction.
Example 2 - Privacy:
Bob wants to switch to a communication channel that is encrypted and open source, because he wants to discuss a privacy-sensitive topic, e.g. medical conditions with Alice. Alice thinks that is unnecessary, and Bob doesn't feel like having a discussion with Alice, because the topic feels really uncomfortable to him.
Example 3 - Pronouns:
Bob uses "he/him" pronouns, when referring to a person of unspecified gender. Being the only woman in the group, Alice feels somewhat excluded. When she says she would prefer that he use the "they/them"-equivalent of German, he responds with some thoughtful arguments about why he thinks this is not worth the inconvenience (the inconvenience is higher in the German language than in English.) The two of them start a discussion, but Alice feels really uncomfortable discussing the topic. She wishes Bob could just take her "It makes me feel more comfortable" as being reason enough.
Example 4 - Caring about Animals :
There is a discussion in the EA local group about veganism. Alice makes the point, that being vegan is likely of net-negative impact, because refraining from eating meat has a negligible impact compared to a donation to ACE's top charities, and because of moral licensing being vegan makes you donate less in expectation.
Bob loves animals and has been vegan for many years. He notices that he gets angry that Alice argues that way, even if he can't pinpoint, why he thinks she is wrong. He wishes that Alice would just go with "These were animals once. With experiences. So eating meat is obviously wrong".
What do you do in such situations?
It's not like Alice or Bob actually believe in an epistemic sense that some line of the other's argument is wrong. Rather, the other's argument makes them feel uncomfortable, because it is in some way related to something personal.
So, I'm wondering
- Have you run into this issue? What are topics that were sensitive for you or someone you know?
- How can I have a good discussion, even when I am emotionally upset by a topic? Should I even try to have this discussion, or is it better for everyone if I just avoid these topics?
- How should I behave if I notice that other people are emotionally upset by a topic?