Are there any safe conversation topics anymore?

My friend Memphis Paul and I record a podcast called “Talking Paragraphs” nearly every weekend.

Throughout the week, we pick up odd news stories and pin them for discussion on the podcast.

We try to keep the recording to an hour. We usually run long.

I edit the podcast. I started with just trimming long pauses and a lot of “ums” and other filler words.

But lately I’ve cut whole swaths of the podcast.

My friend Tyler guest co-hosted when Paul was without power after an ice storm in Memphis.

We talked for nearly 2 hours; about 45 minutes survived.

Tyler and I discussed an issue before the state legislature. Though, at best, about 100 people listen to Talking Paragraphs, he asked me to cut the section in which we talked about the issue.

I agreed.

I’m working to be a schoolteacher. I’ve found myself going silent in most conversations except with my closest friends far away from recording devices.

I used to invite comment and controversy.

Now it terrifies me.

We don’t have disagreements or disputes anymore. We barely have arguments.

We communicate in fits of rage and tantrums.

A disagreement, regardless of scale, is enough for someone to launch a campaign to have you fired, encourage others to spread lies about you on social media, and even physically harm you.

Accusations are as good as convictions in this rumormongering era of social media hysteria.

It feels as if everyone is willing to go to war against their neighbors over the slightest deviation from whatever line they’ve decided cannot be crossed.

Fred Rogers, the late children’s television host, once invited Margaret Hamilton on his show.

Hamilton played the Wicked Witch of the West in the beloved family film, “The Wizard of Oz.”

Hamilton donned her witch costume without the garish green makeup. She explained to children that it was her job to play make believe.

Rogers sang a song called, “Witches Aren’t Real.”

I recently told a group of people that witches aren’t real.

I was cautioned by someone not to say such things as someone in the group might believe in witches.

Of course, there are people who believe in witches. They’re small children who watched “The Wizard of Oz.” That’s’ why Mr. Rogers did a show on it.

I know there is Wicca, a pre-Christian religion who believe in the supernatural powers of magic, various deities, and nature.

Wiccans are real.

Witches aren’t.

I stand by this.

Still, I suppose some Wiccans could have overheard me disrespecting witches and organize a protest.

They might go after me on social media. They might publish my address.

That’s fine if they do. I publish it on my website.

I grew up with phonebooks where everybody’s addresses and phone numbers were published. People looked forward to the new phone books coming out so they could update their address books.

But that was before internet kooks took details about your life and twisted them into daggers and tried to cut out your heart.

I say witches aren’t real.

This, hypothetically, I hope, angers a Wiccan coven.

They could email me their displeasure. We could meet for coffee and take about it over sugar cookies.

Or they could go straight to demanding I get fired and never be allowed to show my face in public again.

People seem to like the latter option best these days.

It makes me sad, but I don’t know what to do it.

There seems to be no fidelity between humans anymore.

Our tribalistic nature is so dominate right now that we can’t just accept some people are different.

The editor of this newspaper has very different opinions than I do. We seem to get along all right.

I disagree with one of my closest friends on practically everything political, but we can talk for hours about “The Book of Boba Fett.”

But unreasonable is the new reasonable.

So, I cut what I believe to be thoughtful, calm talk about state politics out of my podcast.

I think hard about what subjects to pick for this column to make sure they are interesting enough to read but banal enough so as not to get someone to come after me and muck up my life more than it already is.

I try to pick “safe” topics, but what are those? Is there such a thing?

My late father was a salesman. He said he never talked politics or religion because his clients had different ideas about both topics.

That was good business, he said.

Today, I fear, good business is not saying anything about anything.

I’m muckraker at heart. I like to shake things up.

I restrain those tendencies these days. I find myself telling fewer jokes, laughing less, and casting my eyes down in public.

I don’t like a society where a person can’t be themselves.

There doesn’t seem to be much choice in the matter.

Perhaps I should heed the advice of my old friend, the best editor and one of the best humans I ever know: “You can’t listen yourself into trouble.”

Daniel P. Finney writes a weekly column for the Marion County Express.

Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.

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