A few days ago, I went to have lunch with my colleagues (working in the same group). Somehow, the conversation turned towards politics and the "immigrant emergency" that Europe is currently facing.

To put it mildly, I as a person have very strong convictions regarding such issues. I am from India and I have to deal with passive racial profiling on a regular basis (People looking me up and down and then holding their bags a bit more firmly; No, It was not my appearance, I was very well dressed/groomed). After having experienced it the first few times, I understand the biases that affect such behaviour and do not really mind it.

Nonetheless, it is very difficult for me to ignore it when my peers portray this issue from a one-sided perspective. At that moment, I let the matter be because a short argument over lunch is not going to change a people's minds.

Yet, at this moment I feel very angry at myself for not having spoken up.

For future reference, how should I go about addressing such sensitive issues without raising a furore? In other words, how can I present history/societal and political issues from the other side of the fence without creating a fuss? Is that even possible?

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    Do you think the answers to this question need to be tailored to academia? If not you may be better off at Interpersonal Skills, or possibly the Workplace.
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 31, 2018 at 16:34
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    Also, you may want to say where you are from. Answers will certainly depend on this. Cultural norms differ from place to place.
    – user9646
    Aug 31, 2018 at 16:40
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    @BryanKrause Yes I think so. I am well aware (I think so) of the background and biases that affect such opinions. Therefore, I expect my colleagues do too. So, the solution, at least in my mind is not an inter-personal one but rather about how to present relevant information from the other side of the fence in a logical fashion. Aug 31, 2018 at 16:43
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    @FoldedChromatin Academia.SE is more about the world within academia, rather than taking an academic approach to issues in the world. Is your workplace a university or research institution? If so, would your approach differ if you were working in your same field in an industrial setting? If not, again, the other stacks might be more appropriate (though being more appropriate on another stack does not necessarily make it off-topic here). It's just that I have seen almost exactly this question asked there before.
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 31, 2018 at 17:15
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    Unfortunately, information and reasons (logic) presented to people with biases has been shown (research) to only deepen the bias, not dispel it. People don't want to be rational about their biases. Reasoning is actively counterproductive. Again, sad, but true.
    – Buffy
    Aug 31, 2018 at 17:27

3 Answers 3


How should I go about addressing such sensitive issues without raising a furor?

Either keep silence or avoid going to such places if you can't withstand such talks.

how can I present history/societal and political issues from the other side of the fence without creating a fuss?

You can't. Reality is different from place to place and human minds are built according to realities they live in.

Its futile to talk about the benefit of democracy with a person from mainland China; futile to try to explain why invasion of Ukraine was a bad idea to a Russian; futile to try to convince a neo-Nazi to not to stab a Turkish guy.

Is that even possible?

No. This is about ideology. Ideologies can't be argued with. They are deeply rooted into human souls.

Someone who passed their entire life living under the roof of democracy in Hong Kong can not be convinced to cede their right of freedom of speech only because their country is systematically taken over by a communist country. That is why we saw Umbrella Movement.

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    It is extremely sad that this is a correct answer, but, for the most part, it is.
    – Buffy
    Aug 31, 2018 at 17:12
  • Not the answer I was looking for, but I will accept this until another one opposing this view comes along. Aug 31, 2018 at 18:46
  • @FoldedChromatin There is a pretend Latin phrase that translates as "Don't let the bastards wear you down." That is good advice. But it is also good advice to "Don't try to wear the bastards down" if you don't want to wind up overly frustrated. Some wear the badge proudly. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illegitimi_non_carborundum
    – Buffy
    Aug 31, 2018 at 19:59
  • An approach that works for me is to discuss the overall psychology of the situation - for both sides. That permits me to listen to the person and it is interesting to see why these people have that particular opinion (which I may or may not share). Sometimes they are not even aware of the true motives that drives them, and it's fun to try to untangle them (without attempting to even convince them otherwise). I find that if you identify these motives, you can sometimes make them a bit more reflective of their own position (which is probably the best you can do with an ideological person). Sep 1, 2018 at 9:17

Your question has many moral, philosophical, and practical sides and the answer is more or less the work of a lifetime. I recommend: (1) Don't remain silent wherever you see untruth and injustice. Silence sends a strong message of assent and approval. (2) In some cases, you can content yourself with one firm statement of truth and justice and then withdraw without engaging in combat. (3) Don't jeopardize your power and position to the point of extinguishing them, because then you will have no power to help society. (4) Be ready to sacrifice something in defense of people who have far less power and status than you do. To fail to come to the aid of someone who has much less than you is a deep moral failing. (5) After making your one firm counterstatement, make sure you have some larger outlet for your convictions where you can apply them effectively.

Clearly, some of those principles conflict and this is why I say that discovering how to respond to untruth and injustice is the work of a lifetime. Often in life two opposite principles are true at the same time, like "I must respond to injustice" and "I mustn't get killed by a band of bigots."

  • Don't neglect the actual danger of confronting bigots, especially for an immigrant or visitor to US. I mean, actual danger. It isn't hyperbole.
    – Buffy
    Sep 1, 2018 at 22:11

The world is, unfortunately getting more dangerous rather than more accepting at the current moment. It is good if everyone of good will can work to make the world a better place for everyone.

But you can't, safely, act, or even speak out, in every situation in which you might find yourself.

But one thing you can do is to seek out allies who think about things in a clearer, better way, and work with them. It may be possible to do that even in the workplace.

But even within families, if you have a bigoted uncle, it is sometimes best just to let him rant as you won't change him and you have better things to do than try.

Collective action wins. Ghandi taught all of us that lesson, not just those from India and its neighbors.

  • Ghandi taught all of us that lesson, not just those from India and its neighbors. --- and yet racism came back in Europe with more aggression. Keeping hope is not a bad idea, but it only works in theory.
    – user84565
    Aug 31, 2018 at 17:29
  • @yahoo.com, actually I think it failed because people forgot the lesson and need to be reminded. One problem we have as humans is that once we think a problem is "solved" we forget about maintaining the solution. It is called "The fallacy of the last action." and is studied in game theory, for example.
    – Buffy
    Aug 31, 2018 at 17:32
  • Someone unknown said: history's most important lesson is, no one learns from history. It is human nature to be indoctrinated by their persistent reality. Reminder of teachings is futile, when they system is in charge of indoctrination. By the way, India is now ruled by the same party who assassinated Gandhi
    – user84565
    Aug 31, 2018 at 17:39
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    @yahoo.com, Possibly Huxley: age-of-the-sage.org/history/quotations/lessons_of_history.html
    – Buffy
    Aug 31, 2018 at 18:02
  • @yahoo.com Individuals do sometimes learn from actions. Collectives learn from actions, but slowly (or painfully - war), and forget after 2 generations. The best shot are structures (governmental etc.), they tend to have a longer memory, but even they need to be reminded from time to time. Sep 1, 2018 at 9:14

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