Month: March 2015

Taboo, let’s talk about it…

TabooThe word taboo originates from Polynesian culture. Captain James Cook introduced it into the English language after his voyage to Tonga in 1771. It’s use has been widespread ever since.

The online merriam-webster dictionary defines taboo (also spelled tabu) as an adjective, meaning not acceptable to talk about or do.

The Britannica Encyclopaedia states taboo, or tabu, is the prohibition of an action based on the belief that such behaviour is either too sacred and consecrated or too dangerous and accursed for ordinary individuals to undertake.

Sigmund Freud defined taboo as ambivalent social attitude and in effect represents forbidden actions for which there nevertheless exist a strong unconscious inclination.

As I spend time researching taboo I have come to the conclusion that taboo is defined as forbidden to talk about or do. However, what is forbidden differs in every culture and the reason for being forbidden varies based on each society and its history. Societal norms come from years of tradition and change over time through wars, revolutions, science, religion, and many other evolutionary events. Even over time, some universal viewpoints remain taboo.

These topics are avoided to “protect” the community and individuals. In this avoidance we make a mistake. We make the assumption that if we don’t acknowledge it, it doesn’t exist and won’t happen (e.g. failure, divorce, rape, suicide) or it will only happen when it is appropriate (e.g. feelings, sex, pregnancy, death). When it does happen, especially unplanned, no one knows how to properly respond. People are too embarrassed, ashamed, upset, stunned, and/or confused to discuss topics appropriately, inevitably making situations worse.

One of the keys to freedom and liberation is knowledge. Societal norms dictate taboo topics, forcing censorship upon the individuals within said society. The only way to overcome this is to discuss the uncomfortable and open your mind to possibilities (disclaimer: this does not mean do illegal things). We must take the time to appropriately address and discuss what is forbidden; must overcome the fear and stress that comes with discussing the uncomfortable, the forbidden. We cannot hide behind the facade of ignorance is bliss; we must engage the taboo to truly protect.

Life is Taboo

With brand new, glittering red, pedicured toes for Valentines, my two nieces and I walked into Sephora. I was on a mission. I needed bright-red lipstick and was determined to find the perfect shade for my newly-cut, short hair. My nieces, seven and nine, helped me look for the elusive Red Whale. Diligently, we tried on a multitude of colors. Children are brutally honest; either I would quickly receive a nod of approval or a look of horror. They were enthralled by the each lipstick, giggling with each other, and quickly picking out other makeup and brushes.

Then, it happened. My seven-year old niece pointed to an eyeshadow palette. With wide eyes she said, “that’s a bad word.” She showed genuine concern over such public display of inappropriate terminology. How in the world, could our society allow such a scandalous expression be displayed for all to see, especially children? I walked over to her and quickly read the word that she was still motioning towards. Relieved, I smiled. Thank goodness it wasn’t one of the countless other words, ones my sister would be upset if I taught her daughter; I read the word out loud, “Naked.” Frightened, my niece gasped and quickly responded with, “don’t say that!”

I simply asked her why. She proceeded to explain to me that being naked is bad. She was completely embarrassed to have to explain this to me; her explanation didn’t cover her extensive, underlying belief regarding morality and modesty, but I understood what she meant (I will discuss it in a later post). I don’t have children. In fact, I have spent the last six years traveling the world, thus I have not spent a whole lot of time with my nieces and nephews. This might give you some insight to my reaction. I nodded and said ok. I had no idea what to say.

I was so surprised by her response that it left a lasting impression on me; it has given me plenty to contemplate. “Naked” is just a word. On the surface it is neither good nor bad. Being naked is neither good nor bad; it just is. We, as humans, get naked to shower, change, swim or do a multitude of other activities. Why then, did my niece respond so vehemently that it was bad?

I always found it fascinating how easily different topics embarrass us and make people uncomfortable. Why is it human nature and bodily functions embarrass us, causing us to completely avoid acknowledging their existence? We don’t hold conversations about certain topics, or, like my niece, we can’t even say a word. Yet, those words or topics are probably some of the most important dialogues in our lives. They impact our daily lives and our interactions with others. Everything we do is affected by these scandalous topics: sex and sexuality, bodily functions, mental disability, emotions, not following social norms, death etc. The list could go on forever. Each one of these topics is vital to our lives, yet somehow we have deemed it unsuitable and uncivil to address. Leaving me with one simple conclusion: “Life is Taboo.”