I’ve never been one for confrontation. OK, let me rephrase — I’ve never been one for sober confrontation.
Like all my ailments, I blame it on my mother. I’ve seen the frightened look in countless waiters’ eyes as she boldly rejects the table they’ve seated us at. Yes, the booth is minusculely closer to the door than ideal. But is it really worth vinegar — or something worse — in your salad dressing?
Maybe it was simply maturation, but I eventually got over my embarrassment and realized there are reasons to be respectfully confrontational. If I go to dinner with a group of students, it’s not right for the host to assume we won’t tip well and give us a table next to the bathroom. I politely ask for another table, very careful to smile and be much nicer than my mother.
Restaurant etiquette aside, I found myself wrestling with respectful confrontation in a more controversial arena. A friend had posted a tad risqué Facebook status — both pro-choice and supporting LGBTQ rights. No qualms there. The comments, however, took me aback. An adult woman had commented, “Just because someone is against gay marriage doesn’t necessarily mean he is against gay people. :)”
Beside the fact that emoticons are not appropriate over age 14, I was immediately offended. I wholeheartedly disagree with her statement. I didn’t know, however, if a response was warranted. I don’t tolerate homophobic comments, but this was somewhere on the edge. Was this homophobic? And more importantly, was it my place to confront a woman who I didn’t know and would most likely never meet? Is Facebook an appropriate forum for this kind of sensitive discussion?
I initially wrote a typical, fiery, liberal response, took a deep breath and deleted it. Instead I wrote: “I have to disagree.” Short, respectful and lacking any backbone or argument. Even as I posted it, I became the 9 year old, embarrassed and whispering, “Mom, this table is fine!”
I figured my one-sentence response would end my involvement in the thread. The woman, however, continued the conversation. “To some, changing the definition of marriage would be like changing the law of gravity,” she said on the thread. Someone else pointed out that gravity is a description of a force in reality — an explanation of a pre-existing phenomenon — while marriage is an unfixed human construct. It was worded well and, again, respectful.
The woman, pointing out the civility of the discussion and apt to keep it going, said that marriage isn’t simply a social construct, “but a human good with certain inherent requirements.”
The first time it had been easy to shake off. This wasn’t. I was conflicted whether to make a substantial response or not. She was still being respectful, but it was challenging to respond in a non-threatening manner.
I responded with my agreement. Marriage is a human good with certain inherent requirements; including love, consent and not much else. It’s a human good I would like to be a part of someday — or tomorrow, Zooey Deschanel, whenever is convenient for you. Beyond the “human good” aspect, I pointed out that the legal structure is vital as well for hospital visitation rights and tax benefits.
The woman pointed out in one sentence that it was possible for non-heterosexual couples to attain these rights. At this point, it was all she could do to reinforce her argument without saying something blatantly homophobic, which she had clearly been avoiding to keep a civil tone. I knew this and went in for a confrontational kill.
In about 20 states, there are ways to attain most of the legal rights that a heterosexual married couple has. But, I responded, by doing so I affirm that I’m not allowed the same “human good with certain inherent requirements” that heterosexual couples are. Therefore, I affirm that I am less of a human — less deserving of a “human good” — than a heterosexual. I’m not. I’m firm and unwavering in that conviction, regardless of what side of the issue she or anyone else is on.
She apologized for offending me, but had I taken the previously polite conversation too far? Was I too confrontational? Haven’t I learned about the importance of respectful dialogue in every sociology class?
In the end, there are some things that no amount of political correctness can sugarcoat. Yes, asking for a different table with a nice tone probably saves me from spit in my Coke, but calling millions of conscious, productive and, sexuality aside, normal people less than human with polished language and smiles doesn’t change your thesis. There are times when civility should be thrown aside, when respectful forcefulness with rational and intellectual argument is necessary. As uncomfortable the confrontation may be, we must say: “You are infringing upon my rights and dignity. I cannot stand by idly and let you continue.”
Andrew Weiner is a senior editorial page editor. He is an LSA sophomore.