Find the right time and place to have controversial conversations

By Mary Adam, Columnist

In elementary school, lunchtime was just a time for my friends and I to covertly smuggle extra chocolate milk. Middle school lunchtime talks were filled with laughter and sandwich trades. High school lunchtime was solely for gossiping. Now, at the collegiate level, lunchtime conversations are less filled with “How was your day?” and more full of debates over current events.

Everyone has that one friend that wants to stir the pot. Most of the time, these lunchtime debates aren’t meant to be a peaceful conversation. They’re especially not intended as a way to learn from others and why they posses certain beliefs. Nothing can be learned from a screaming match. Don’t poke the bear (me) when I’m eating lunch. All I want is to enjoy my sandwich and potato salad. You can’t take anyone seriously when they’re eating potato salad.

Just last week, I sat down at a table by myself about to watch an episode of “Parks and Recreation” with a nice BLT wrap. I was so jazzed for the wrap. Millimeters away from taking my first bite, I could feel a dark presence around me. It was a pot stirrer. That kid who always wants to prod you on social issues. I immediately turned my head down and pretended like I didn’t see him.

My cover was blown; the pot stirrer found me. Pot Stirrer sat right next to me. I sighed. “Hi, Pot Stirrer,” and sure enough I’m delightfully greeted with “Are you going on the March for Life trip?” The Pot Stirrer didn’t even ease into it like before. Pot Stirrer was getting stronger. His question was met with me awkwardly scratching my neck (my nervous tick). “Well you see, Pot Stirrer, I’m actually pro-choice so I won’t be attending. Have fun though.”

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

You’d think that would be the end of the conversation, right? Wrong. The wonderful aggressive words of “You’re a baby killer; you kill babies” rang through my ears. Red alert, the sirens are going off, sound the alarm. My face was the equivalent of one of those cartoons with steam coming out of the ears flushed with the color red. While I was having my own internal Alec Baldwin like rageaholic moment, the pot stirrer was still going on about how I am what’s wrong with the world. What was most upsetting to me was that this person took time out of their day to spew their own hatred onto my wrap and me.

I didn’t care that this person was pro-life; he is entitled to his own opinion. The beauty of the human race is that we all have different views. The problem was that this person wasn’t trying to respect and understand my beliefs, but instead chose to tell me off. You can call me a baby killer, you can tell me I’m going to hell and you can foolishly scold me like a maniac, but you can’t take away my peaceful time with a BLT wrap and some Leslie Knope.

After about five minutes of listening to pot stirrer go on about how I was the devil, I calmly waited for a time to interject my thought. I said the golden word that many men are most afraid of, vagina. “I’m sorry pot stirrer, do you have a vagina?” That question was met with silence and a baffled pot stirrer. He slowly walked away, feeling grossed out and defeated by the word I just used.

The point of this story is to find the right time and place to have these conversations.  Don’t interrupt someone from relaxing and enjoying their meal to try and make them feel bad for their beliefs. Most likely, you won’t sway someone to switch sides, especially in the amount of time of a lunch period. To all the pot stirrers out there, next time you try to start a debate during lunch, do it in a safe space. A safe space where you try to learn from an individual instead of scolding them.

After recovering from the pot stirrer, I turned back to “Parks and Rec.” Leslie Knope just endured another angry town hall meeting. She turned to the camera and said “What I hear when I’m being yelled at is people caring loudly at me.” I choose to believe that’s what the post stirrer was trying to do, but just did a bad job of it.

Mary is a freshman in CS. 

[email protected]