I have always had a reputation even among those who do not know me well of having a calm deposition and peaceful demeanor. During my tenure in advertising I cultivated the unflappable satisfaction of a Madonna even amid the high anxiety of client presentations.
You can imagine my confusion and chagrin (which has nothing to do with smiling) when I found myself in heated discussions recently with two friends. Forsooth, to call them discussions is being disingenuous for my blood pressure was up, my face was pink and deep within my throat a growl was forming.
In one case I was ready to push back the chair from the table and flounce , which is fleeing in a bouncy manner, out of the coffee shop. In the other I was ready to press the red X key that would abruptly terminate a Skype conversation.
And the subjects of these two discussions? Why, politics and religion, of course. The two topics any wise hostess bans from the dinner table. In both cases these old friends slyly insinuated their favorite conversational hobby horses into our heretofore pleasant tete-a-tete.
The religious conversation combined elements of both metaphysical New Agism and extreme left wing do-gooderism. Now I have been at various times a New Ager and a do-gooder but that particular day I was not in the mood for the excesses of naïve idealism.
But it was not to be. I would be convinced and converted, or else. Finally, I noticed a triumphant look in her eye when a comment had drawn blood and I had heatedly responded. It was veni, vidi, vici all over again and we weren’t even in England! It was less a matter of dogmatism than the desire to sharpen her wit on my whetstone.
When our coffee date was over, she told me how much she had enjoyed our stimulating afternoon. “People just don’t want to discuss anything important anymore. How can we make the world a better place without conversation?” I agreed and staggered to the car, vowing never to cross (s)words again - although on the drive home I did come up with some real zingers.
Then other day I was Skyping with a friend when the subject of gun control laws came up as a result of the tragic Colorado movie theater event. He was strongly in favor of total gun control and a ban of weapons sales while I posited that it was the violence and insanity of our society as whole that was to blame, not the weapons. Before you could say ‘duck’ his ten-minute diatribe on weapons was underway.
I am still uncertain about both experiences. I do not like to argue. If two people have opposing or incompatible viewpoints, I am happy to put that topic aside in future conversations. Or, is that the coward’s way out? Am I afraid to disagree, or stand up for what I believe in? Or is it a matter of not wanting to take any position? Is it that I no longer believe in anything?
The older I get the less I enjoy confrontation and the less certain I am that I am even partly right. I would like the world to be a kinder, gentler place but have no idea how to bring that about except in one’s personal life. I don’t believe that the government, religion, philosophy or science can save the world; in fact, it more often seems to befuddle it – which is a wonderful word that combines the dazzle of being with the ambiguity of mud.
In the future I will head off any controversial topics with a quick thrust. I have decided on a verbal riposte that will flicker briefly on the tip of the tongue, then strike deep – “Sez you!” And failing that, pulling out the coup d’ etat of comebacks, “So’s your mother!”