Politicians call them “Third-Rail” issues – topics that will kill you instantly, as if you touched the third-rail on the subway track – the rail that carries all the high voltage! Touch it and you are dead! Third-rail conversations like politics, money and religion are killers.
The other day I made the mistake of mentioning that morning’s news to one of my golfing partners. We had just finished the 10th hole and she had missed a birdie putt by a squeak. So I’ll allow for the fact that her frustration level was on the high side. But when I made the crack about “those Republicans!” she gave me a look that would wither a snake. Yikes! Don’t go there. I quickly changed the subject to the weather – a safe topic I thought I could handle.
But somehow the conversation moved to the controversy over climate change, and the hot summer they are predicting for our region, and the fact that we’ve never had such hot weather, and “those Republicans” were blocking any and all reforms…! Yikes! I did it again. Got the evil eye for the second time.
I admit to being more of a liberal than a conservative… and moderation in my political views? Well, let’s say I have strong opinions… but I usually have the brains to keep them to myself. Especially on the golf course.
Think about it. Many times you are playing with people you have just met. The pro shop filled the schedule and there was a slot at your 10:30 tee time and so Mr. or Ms. Newcomer was added to your original group of three. Fine. No problem. You say hello, you might shake hands, you go to the first tee and you start to play. At some point you might ask a question about where they live, or where they have played before… very generic questions. If they answer easily, then there’s an opening for further conversation. But if they don’t, and it becomes clear this newcomer prefers to play without a lot of conversation, be smart enough to be quiet.
I played with a woman the other day, and I could tell she was serious about her game and was not particularly interested in talking. I tested the waters with a weather question…”Looks like it might rain later on.” No comment from her. This was my cue to just keep walking and not talking. I think she appreciated my silence, but finally on the short walk between holes 3 and 4 she opened up about gardening. A very safe topic. What can go wrong talking about dirt and seeds. But then there is the issue of genetically modified seeds that the chemical companies are selling all over the world. Oooops. Don’t bring that one up! I turned the conversation back to flowerbeds. Stay away from vegetables and the toxic insecticides we are all ingesting with every serving of greens.
I don’t know. I guess I’m a news junkie. And when it comes to conversational topics, mine often end up with current events that are often controversial: third-rail conversations you should never have on the golf course. Sigh.
So what can you talk about during a round of golf? What’s safe and what’s a “third-rail” topic? What do you talk about when you’re walking the links?