We were discussing whether or not to be open-minded about people with traits/behaviours/points of view that one doesn't understand (e.g. BDSM, multiplicity, transgender, furries, depression, religious faith, menk, otherkin - not all of which were cited in the original discussion, but all of which are vulnerable to this by dint of many people simply not 'getting' them and mocking them as a result):Note that, out of the list "BDSM, multiplicity, transgender, furries, depression, religious faith, menk, otherkin" (I don't know what "menk" is), I am decidedly uncomfortable with and sometimes catty about a number of manifestations of same, even in the categories I have some personal experience with. So what I say below is not how I behave all the time. It's more of a direction I'm pointing in.
Is it worse to not understand it or to pretty much understand it but still find it totally risible?
I think understanding -- to the point of compassion -- the extent to which other people think and believe differently from you is one of the greatest goods there is. I also think it's extremely difficult, and most people aren't as good at it as they think they are.
That kind of understanding allows for viewing others' beliefs with affectionate humor but not mockery. If you are mocking, then you aren't making an effort to understand, and/or you're possibly threatened.
This goes for both beliefs and actions. If someone's beliefs are leading them to act in ways that cause damage, then mockery is not going to help solve the problem. Understanding may help, because if you understand how they are thinking, you are more likely to be able to get through to them about why their behavior is damaging, and/or you are more likely to be able to figure out how else to stop them from doing what they're doing (e.g., by directing them to less damaging expressions of their beliefs).
I often think people are overly kind with people who really should have their peculiar beliefs challenged.
I don't agree with either part of the above. First, I don't see excessive kindness. I think people are generally quite mean to those who have beliefs they consider peculiar. I also think most forms of "challenging" don't accomplish anything other than stirring up anger and resentment.
If someone is doing damage, then they need to be stopped. Really skillful challenging of their beliefs might be one of the tools for stopping them, but usually other tools are also needed.
Note: The conversation seems to be about "alternative lifestyles," if you'll forgive the term. What if we turn the conversation onto mainstream beliefs instead? Do you (any you who wants to respond to this) think that it's a good idea to laugh at people who, say, have very conservative political beliefs? What does it accomplish? Do you think it's useful to try to understand where they are coming from? Why or why not? Is it effective to challenge their beliefs?