When casual conversation turns controversial
The exterminator came today. (Why would I need an exterminator? Welcome, new reader! You can read of my woes here, here, here and here). As I followed him around with comments like, “Spray more there…more over there…” and, “Can you just unscrew the lid on that thing and start dumping chemicals everywhere?” we chit-chatted about various topics.
He mentioned that his brother and sister-in-law were 16 weeks pregnant with their first child. After I said congratulations, he continued on that they’re going to schedule an amniocentesis “to make sure there are no abnormalities or anything,” since that’s more accurate than a blood test and they want to be sure. I nodded and there was an uncomfortable silence, so he continued, “Because, you know, it wouldn’t be right to bring a child into this world who wouldn’t have a good quality of life.” He continued on to tell me the story of a child he knows who has Down’s Syndrome, and how the child’s parents have had a lot of stress because of it, and the child can’t even have a “normal” life. He strongly implied that it would be better if that child’s life had been ended in utero.
I took that opportunity to allow the Holy Spirit to work through me and told him something so profound that he will surely change his heart on this matter. I said, “Uh-huh.”
He replied that he could see from our house that we were Catholic, and that he probably shouldn’t have said anything. (The fact that he could tell from our house that we were Catholic and that therefore he knew a lot of things about me was a very cool moment, and one I will probably discuss in a future post.) Seeing that he was waiting for me to say something, in a true testament to my social awkwardness and desire to avoid uncomfortable moments, I muttered, “Well, yeah, I understand that.”
Allow me to translate. When I said, “I understand that,” what I meant was: “I know where you’re coming from because I used to say things like that too but I’ve come to believe that that is wrong seeing as how it involves humans deciding whose life is worth living and the grisly killing of babies who are almost old enough to survive outside the womb and all but I’m just going to throw out something vague like ‘I understand’ because I don’t want it to feel all weird in here.”
Clearly any response other than the one I gave would be better…but what? I’m so incredibly non-confrontational that it’s hard for me to even think of what the right response would be. What are we supposed to do in situations like this? What is the right reaction when someone expresses a view that you find very disturbing as part of casual chit-chat? Do you keep the good vibes going and just let it slide? Do you make sure that your views are heard and risk seeming pushy or starting an argument?
I’ve had this sort of thing happen before and I never know what to do. Today, as is usually the case, I didn’t feel anger toward the exterminator and didn’t want him to think I thought he was a bad person or anything, but I did eagerly want to find some polite way to stand up for my beliefs. But, alas, as usual, I said nothing.
What do you do in these kinds of situations?