Alternate Title: Is this the topic you really want? Because it’s honestly, murky waters for me
I appreciate a good disclaimer. I like knowing what to look out for or when I need to seriously choose my words carefully. However, I also know that we’re rarely given disclaimers outside of the fine print of advertisements. Instead, you’re often expected to “read the room” and fall back on your emotional intelligence and social skills.
That’s why I think we need to implement a phrase that means: “Hey, this is a personal topic for me. I might not want to discuss it with you. And you might not want to really discuss it with me.”
Why murky water?
I think “murky water” paints a visual that many people can instinctively relate to. It’s that “hey, hold up,” it gives you when you can’t see the bottom of a body of water. It usually makes you pause and think. And that’s what I want from the lingo.
Why do we need a special phrase?
You might think, “can’t the person who has an issue with the topic just say so? What’s stopping them from saying, ‘I feel strongly about this. And maybe it’s best we don’t talk about it,’ and just moving on?”
Well, for one, many people have issues expressing their hesitance/sensitivity/whatever it may be. The beauty of the “murky water” phrase [and how I would hope for it to catch on] is that:
- It confronts the lack of awareness of the other person’s PoV.
- It doesn’t require the person to instantly detail their issues. It’s a “heads-up” rather than a “spill the beans.” [Which I imagine is nice for discussing controversial topics or if you’re someone that’s triggered by certain things that most people don’t think about/expect.]
I also think that with more and more people being exposed to new ideas/lifestyles/political opinions, that it may be vital we formulate some type of common lingo that precedes what could be a difficult topic. For example, if your friend Mike thinks so-and-so is an inherent joke, but you connect and feel strongly about it, then you should be able to say, “Mike, that’s murky water for me.” And Mike will know that his PoV might not be well received or that he might have to confront your opposing view, rather than just dismiss or make fun of it.
Also, the importance of an established lingo matters perhaps even more so with strangers and the ease of anonymity with the internet. The dynamic of these two groups means that it’s impossible for the other party to automatically “know where you’re coming from.” And as I’m sure you’ve seen, this doesn’t always bode well, even if Mike or whoever has a valid point and can articulate it. Sometimes a topic is just emotionally charged and needs to be prefaced to address that.
What does this look like in practice?
For the record, the purpose of this idea is to make the recipient pause, consider, and then only engage if they’re willing to listen and have good intentions of learning someone else’s PoV (assuming whoever says, “murky water” is up to talk about it).
Of course, whoever says “murky water” might be expected to give the other party the benefit of the doubt. In this case, the conversation should be a 2-way street with everyone acknowledging it is a complicated and/or emotionally difficult topic for at least one person. It doesn’t mean you can’t debate or argue. It does mean you should show some consideration.
[I know, maybe people should take this approach for most conversations. However, I’m only aiming for the heated debates and personal moments ones. Why? Because if we can’t manage it for those times, I doubt there’s hope for the average conversation. I mean, how much do you pause and seriously consider possible alternative views in your everyday conversations?]
What does murky water mean to you?
I started this post by saying how I like disclaimers. And it might also be apparent in this post that there are different angles for what to do after saying “murky water.” There’s a point to that.
“Murky water” is a disclaimer, but it’s also not the whole contract. Some people will say it to permanently halt the discussion right there. Others just want to warn the other party, but would still want the conversation to proceed. You might even find yourself using it in different ways in different situations. And that’s okay.
Not every discussion that’s “murky water” needs to be treated like a debate in a courtroom. Sometimes, it’s just an emotionally charged discussion, where logic might fall to the wayside. And other times, it gets stopped from being a full-blown argument. Again, none of these are inherently wrong. Use it how you need to.
Just remember, by saying the phrase the person is trying to make it obvious that they have a complicated if not stressful perspective about the topic. They’re acknowledging that and trusting their own understanding of their emotional and mental limits to warn you beforehand. [And I respect that.]
So, if you get told it, remember to pause and consider. What do you want from this conversation? Does it seem worth it? Are you emotionally and mentally up for it? If you think you would still like to engage then ask the other person if they’re okay to do so.
If you say “murky water” then respect your limits. And if the other person wants to continue but you don’t, say so. Nothing else is required. However, if you both still want to engage, then don’t forget you might be expected to share your own view and respect theirs.