Every Toastmasters meeting is commenced by an authority called the SAA or Sergeant-at-Arms who is responsible for laying down ground rules and guidelines concerning public speaking. Due to the lockdown resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the SAA mentions the rules differently for online meetings. But there is one rule especially in India, where that rule has remained the same irrespective of an in-person meeting or an online meeting.
“KINDLY REFRAIN FROM SPEAKING ABOUT CARDINAL TOPICS LIKE SEX, RELIGION, AND POLITICS”
The above rule is prominent only in Toastmasters clubs in certain countries. India is one of them. The reason for that rule being there is due to the origins of Toastmasters in India. Toastmasters was brought to India from the Middle East and that rule was carried along. But despite all these years of Toastmasters establishing itself in India, that rule has stuck around. I’ve asked around the reason for implementing that rule. Most answers brush off those topics as taboo. The organization has deemed these topics as taboo because speaking on sex, religion and politics garners strong opinions and some people can get offended. When someone gets offended, further altercations and fights may ensue. It’s due to this reason that the SAA always mentions this rule. But let’s try and understand why each of these topics might be banned.
Sex: It’s a part of everyday life. That’s how you were born. That’s what your parents did to bring you to this world. That’s what you need to do to continue your family tree. But for some reason, talking about an everyday process is taboo. I do not understand the reason behind the prohibition of discussions pertinent to sex. Maybe it’s because it’s an intimate affair. That way, we shouldn’t even be speaking about friendships and relations.
Religion: Generally, religion corresponds to theistic or atheistic tendencies. Whether you believe in the existence of a god or which type of god you believe in. Different religions believe in different forms of deities, but apparently talking about your belief or disbelief in a deity is taboo.
Politics: The etymology of the word politic dates to the Greek
civilization. It’s derived from Aristotle’s work, Politik. The word is related to making decisions for citizens. Toastmasters has a pathway called Dynamic Leadership which aims to groom speakers into better leaders. And again, speaking about politics is taboo.
The common link between the above topics is that they garner strong opinions. Either absolute affirmation from someone who agrees with you or vehement denial from a person who disagrees with you. The main aim of Toastmasters is to help you improve your communication and build leadership skills. But in a real-world scenario, it’s almost certain that a leader or a communicator will have to interact with other people on these topics: sex, religion, and politics. Can the same Toastmaster tell the general public that he/she will refrain from talking about sex, religion, and politics because it’s inappropriate to talk about due to the potential eruption of controversy between disagreeing parties?
If that is the case, then Toastmasters doesn’t do full justice to help us improve our communication and public speaking skills since we encounter those topics on a daily basis, in some form or the other.
A true public speaking aficionado will not deter from speaking on those topics as it is important for us to speak on them in the right manner. Almost every topic in the world can offend another person. I can start a war by saying that vanilla ice-cream is a disaster compared to chocolate.
Whenever you give your opinion, there is always a scope for someone to not agree with you.
By restricting speech on sex, religion, and politics, our free speech is being restricted. We should be able to give opinions on whatever we please. And besides, speaking on these topics without offending someone is a great diplomatic skill to have. Maybe it’s time to come out of this confinement of the thought prison of restricting our opinions.