How many times have I heard “I understand where you’re coming from?” How many times have I heard “I don’t understand how someone could do that?”
We are all human beings. Although I feel different from everyone else, I am much more similar than I realize. If I am having a conversation with another person, and one of us says something awkward, it is a good bet that the other person involved in the conversation feels it too. This also applies in situations where there is no conversation going on. We possess empathy that is almost telepathic. This is because we have learned to make decisions based on fine observations of complex details including situation, experience, body language, and communication.
Writing is much more personal than speaking. When I write, I have the ability to guide the characters, to place them in the situation I want to place them in, in the position I want them, using the words I want them to use and taking the action I choose for them. I can rewrite the scene until it is the way I want it. My responsibility as a writer is to get below the first level, the conversational level where we communicate with one another but do not speak about things that really make us think. As a writer I want to reveal the things that I understand but am unwilling to say. It is not about right or wrong, or what is socially acceptable. It is about truth.
It is a delicate balance, because I don’t want to take a character to a place that a reader is unwilling to go. It is important to remember that, when done well, the examination of uncomfortable ideas makes my characters real, and allows my audience to relate to them.