There’s a repeating pattern I encounter in life. People who identify as part of group, and when they encounter someone who is not a steadfast member, they interpret the choice to be different as an argument.
One of the strongest memories I have of this phenomenon was from my early 20s. I was vegetarian for about 10 years. I met someone at a party or on a camping trip – can’t quite remember where. The conversation went like this:
Them: “You’re a vegetarian?! Why???”
Me: “For personal reasons. For the animals, I guess.”
Them: “No, I could never do that. I eat meat. It’s how I was raised. I don’t want to give that up.”
Me: “I never suggested you should be vegetarian. I’m not an activist. You should go ahead and eat meat. You can even cook it and eat it in front of me.”
Them: “No, I don’t want to have to worry about it. I don’t think vegetarian is for me.”
Was that person even having the same conversation as me? They understood that I had chosen to be vegetarian, and instantly tried it on themselves for some reason, and out loud had the argument as to why it would not work for them. I wonder if they even heard themselves during that dialogue. I had no argument. But for showing up in front of them, I received one.
Here's a more recent example. In a room full of IT professionals in their late 20s and early 30s, and me. They were all talking about buying and selling cryptocurrencies. One of them turns to me and says
One guy: “Would you buy this stuff?”
Me: “No, I don’t day-trade currencies. Actually my wife and I have chosen real estate to be our investment route.”
One guy: “What have you got against it man? It’s growing like crazy!!”
Me: “I don’t have anything against it. You should go ahead and invest in cryptos if you want to. It’s a short term, high risk, high reward investment. I have chosen a long term, slow gain, lower risk option with larger investment amounts. But neither is right or wrong.”
One guy: “What if you just put $300 in it today?”
Me: “I’m not really interested. Besides if I did that my wife would be pretty angry ---”
Second guy: “For what? Making money???”
Me: Silent, with raised eyebrows.
Second guy: “What, no comeback?”
Me: “No. No comeback.”
End of conversation.
This one was pretty awful. The second guy made me feel bad for having a differing opinion; for having an informed answer that was different then “Yes, we should all invest in cryptocurrencies.” The first guy was just asking me out of curiosity. The second guy was practically attacking me for being different. And I think he thought that my differing opinion was a one-up argument; like a witty comeback, rather than an expression of my options and choices. He was not open to my thoughts, opinions, and experiences. And he was definitely not open to the idea that I was different than him.
This one has been going on for months.
Me: “I’m going to go buy a sandwich for lunch. Anyone want anything?”
Them: “We have an app for that. Everyone has this conversation online.”
Me: “So that we should rarely or never speak to each other out loud, face-to-face? No thanks.”
A few weeks later.
Them: “Rahul, aren’t you getting the same as us for lunch?”
Me: “Oh, where are you going?”
Them: “It’s all on the app. Dammit, you’re still not on the lunch app. What are you avoiding? It tells everyone what you’re getting for lunch and you can get points for joining others’ lunch orders.”
Me: “I don’t collect loyalty points. I don’t see the value in that app for me. I just don’t get it.”
Them: “Oh I think you get it, and you’re just lying. It’s free money, man! You’re an idiot!!”
End of conversation.
So in the eyes of others, because I chose a certain diet, because I choose a certain investment portfolio, and because I choose not to participate in some loyalty programs, therefore I am an idiot, therefore I am questioning what they are choosing or in fact decrying it, and therefore I am promoting only my own choices. And somehow these people think that because I have an opinion that informs my choices for myself, that therefore I am attempting to lead them and convince them to follow me.
Let it be known that I am not trying to convince anyone of anything. I’m not trying to sway anybody’s choices or opinions. I don’t need them to agree with me. But I do need to be able to make my own choices and express my thought process without being shut down every time it’s different. It’s a big, diverse world out there, and people need to grow up and show some respect for others and their individual journeys.
(It’s also a very lonely world, where I eat lunch alone, and I don’t talk about investments or menus, or any other informed opinions I have.)
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