At a meetup group coffee event recently, I made the mistake of bringing up the topic of the refugees flooding into Europe. I probably should have stayed with safer topics because I didn’t know any of the people who were there, and up until that point the conversations had been small talk and getting-to-know-you chit chat. No sooner had I expressed my sympathy for the refugees than the man sitting across from me took the opportunity to spout all the anti-refugee, anti-immigration propaganda arguments you have ever heard.
To be honest, I was surprised to actually meet someone who believed all that stuff. I was also unprepared to answer him with actual data. Even if I had been, I was there to make new friends, not enemies. So, I paused and decided it was time for me to leave. Yes, I chickened out.
Often, we don’t have the luxury of extended conversations with people with whom we disagree. Life is not like the debate club at school. Mostly we find ourselves at odds with complete strangers whom we are unlikely to meet again or we have a different viewpoint from people we love and/or live with. Either way, it seems redundant or counterproductive to argue. So, we clench our jaws and do whatever we have to do to get out of the discussion as quickly as possible. Here are another couple of instances I came across recently.
Overheard at the flu vaccination clinic:
Man: I don’t know why I keep getting these flu shots. I haven’t had the flu in years.
Woman: That’s because you’ve been getting the flu shot.
Man: Yes, but…
Woman: No but.
This made me laugh. Then, the couple went on to briefly discuss the value of flu shots. The woman maintained, with an undertone of longsuffering, that they were advantageous. The man, with frustration, expressed his disgruntlement in being injected with a vaccine he didn’t understand by a system he didn’t trust.
Overheard at an Alberta Registries office:
[Note; Canadians who move from other provinces to Alberta have ninety days to transfer their driver’s licenses.]
Man: I have not renewed my driver’s license in time but I need to move my car.
Clerk: Well, what you should have done was …blah, blah, blah. (For several minutes.)
Man (Jaw clenched): Right. But I didn’t.
The clerk here obviously knew the rules and regulations, and thought it was essential for others to obey them. That’s why she felt it necessary to explain them to the man. He, on the other hand, probably had things in his life like a new job and new home that were more important to him than the provincial rules around transferring his driver’s license. Besides, he didn’t need to be told what he already knew he had done wrong.
It’s frustrating when we decide not to engage in debate because our instinct is always to correct what we think is not right, but we often just weigh our options and decide that winning isn’t everything. Sometimes peaceful coexistence is more important.
In any case, when faced with representatives of governmental agencies and curmudgeons of every kind, resistance is always futile. Afterwards, we can always go away and tell our friends how right we were and how wrong the other person was. Good friends will always agree.
Image source: Small Steps Big Changes