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.

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