Sometimes abstract discussions are not appropriate

If someone is telling you about a bad situation they’re in, or something they’re upset about, it’s probably not a good time to launch into an abstract discussion of something tangentially related.

For instance:

  • Jane: My coworkers keep hitting on me. It’s really getting to be a problem.
  • Bill: Well, hitting on people can be very important.

Likewise, when someone wants support for a bad thing that happened, that is probably not a good time to have an abstract conversation with them about the nature of the words they’re using.

For instance:

  • Bruce: This is such an awful work schedule. My boss keeps telling me it doesn’t matter because we’re doing such awesome things. He’s so freaking invested in his privilege.
  • Leo: I don’t know that I’d call that privilege. I mean, obnoxiousness sure, but I’m not seeing the privilege. Doesn’t privilege mean being part of a privileged group? How’s your boss privileged?

Bill and Leo might be right, but what they’re saying isn’t appropriate in context. They’re changing the subject to make it about something else they want to discuss in an abstract way, rather than listening to the problem the person is actually talking about.

That’s obnoxious. (And it’s different from calling people on bad things they do, which can be important too. This subject-change to an abstract topic rather than the problem at hand is a different thing than saying “hey, you’re saying something messed up here”.)