Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Death Cab for Margie and the Good Debate

At the end of an argument, you will be shaking fists.
At the end of a debate, you will be shaking hands.


Just a few days ago I was sitting in a hotel lobby in Souda, Greece with a few friends. We were waiting for a cab to take us into downtown Chania, a beautiful little town in northern Crete. When the cab driver finally appeared, we were ready to get into town and enjoy some authentic Greek food. Mind you though that the road between our little hotel in Stavros and the Old Harbor in Chania winds and twists, up and down. So my friends were nice enough to let me have the front seat since I have a tendency to get carsick (note to other carsick sufferers-don't travel through Costa Rica without first preparing yourself for those roads!). With my friends chatting in the back, I decided to make nice with the natives. The cabbie and I started talking about everything, from the political demonstrations to the idealization of communism to... FOOD.

"Oh the food is delicious... I hope none of you are vegetarian."

Ummm... He seems like a nice enough guy, right? "Actually, I am". And so it begins....

Coming out as a vegetarian, I imagine, is similar to coming out as a gay person. People have one of two* reactions: 1) The Friend-who-can-relate: "I have lots of [gay/vegetarian] friends!" or, "Oh, I have this other friend who is [gay/vegetarian] too!" Thank you for trying to ease the pain of coming out and attempting to show you can relate. 2) The Evangelist: "You're going to hell".

What? What did I do to offend you? Coming out as either vegetarian or gay always seems to put that one closed-minded person on the defensive... the num-chuck-like admonitions come swinging: "You can't get enough [protein/family values] like that"; "You're missing out on the great [food/pussy]"; "You're going to hell". (Did you catch that the first rebuke in each phrase is for vegetarianism and the second is for homosexuality? I hope so...)

While I was tempted to react by either 1) challenging my portly cab driving friend to a race down the beach to see who was getting the right nutrients; or 2) to educate my hairy little friend about the structure of a protein and that it is made up of amino acids which are found in every food, thus allowing for many combinations of vegetarian foods to be complete proteins (i.e., whole wheat bread and peanut butter, brown rice and black beans, etc), or 3) giving him a list of vegetarian and vegan superathletes who do damn well (if not better) without meat.

But had I done any of those things, I would have lost the argument. Because really, one can never win an argument. Once you enter an argument, you have already lost because at that point each person is only trying to force the other to accept their truth. However, in a good debate, two people are trying to understand each other's truths.

Just yesterday I entered into a good debate. Fate, or the Facebook Gods, brought a friend's status message to my attention. While the topic itself isn't important, our status-comment-tango turned into a dance of Facebook messages where we tried to understand the other's point of view. Rather than trying to change each other's view, we just wanted to understand each other's perspective... thus, a good debate.

While I wonder if I could have beat Death Cab in a footrace down the beach, it wouldn't have changed his mind. Maybe one day he'll have a good debate of his own and can learn a thing or two about vegetarianism... but I won't hold my breath. I'm grateful for the two contrasting experiences though cause it taught me a thing or two about communication and that if I want to get my point across, I have to be open to points coming from the other direction. "Arguments are fueled by aggression; debates are fueled by expression."

*There is actually a third reaction that is perhaps more common than I give credit for: "Why?" but in the open-minded sense of the question, not the other way: "Why?!"

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