A couple of days ago, a friend of mine told me there was something she wanted to tell me. After the usual “You’re pregnant?” and “So, getting married?” auto-responses from me, she told me she had recently decided to become a vegan. This unexpected transition occurred after she had watched some of the clips that are recently running around the internet, particularly on Facebook. She was appalled by the views to the point of nausea, after which came the contemplation that concluded in making a decision.
A big step for any person, no doubt, but this particular friend descends from a long and distinguished Argentinian family. And that’s the real problem.
You see, Argentinians are world-renowned for their carnivorism. For an Argentinian father, a gay son, as bad news as it gets for a Latin man, is still favorable over a vegetarian son. And don’t think that daughters get any discounts. So you can imagine her feeling between a rock and a hard place. In fact, at the time she told me that, I had learned that she had only confided in her brother. Her father hadn’t heard it yet.
It was obvious that she needed to unload, so I let her tell me about the entire process she was going through. Since I don’t share her views on either the pseudo-medical justification or the moral justification of becoming a vegan, I couldn’t help myself but occasionally respond to some of the points that she brought up.
I didn’t do it to start a discussion. Honestly. I respected her decision (like my volleyball coach always used to say about bad referees: “He has the right to be wrong”…) and I had no intention to convince her otherwise. I was just being a typical guy, unable to tell an “I’d like you to help me or tell me what you think” situation, which us guys tend to default into, from the famous, elusive and uncharted “I need you to shut up, listen and nod” situation. And to be honest, she wasn’t trying to convince (or convert, if you prefer) me either.
And suddenly, as my ADHD temporarily took over my train of thoughts, it hit me.
I realized what the single, most significant thing I disliked about religion was. Any religion. Be it Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Science or Apple (the latter two being my symbiotic religions). It was the obsessive, unapologetic, unforgiving urge to not only be certain that you are following the right way, but rather to try to convince others to desert the path they were taking and follow yours. Willfully at times, forcefully at others.
It’s not the only thing I don’t like about religion. There are a few more, such as the arrogance to believe that religion itself (or even the Bible alone) already has all the answers to all the questions, but that is all beside the point. It’s the “My way or the highway” attitude.
And suddenly it occurred to me that the fact that she was telling me about her transformation without trying to convince me to tag along was so unusual that it actually bothered me.
Looking back on various conversations I had throughout my life in Israel, it was starting to be evident that Israelis have this tendency to try to convince others to go their way. “Dude, you just HAVE to watch The Wire. I’m telling you, it’s the best TV show ever!” Or “We just came back from two weeks in Thailand. Man, you just HAVE to go there!” Or how about, “Man, this iPhone is amazing! You HAVE to get one! Throw that stupid Nokia already!”
I was trying to figure out why it is that we do that. Where the need to be trend-setters and leaders comes from. The best explanation I could come up with, as shallow as it may sound, is that by seeing people following our lead, we draw reassurances to the correctness of our choices and the social value that we carry. We’re actually trying to convince you to do something so WE can feel better, not so YOU can.
I have decided to put myself into observation mode for a couple of weeks. I will try to listen to conversations around me and to listen to conversations I’m in. I’m going to try to NOT engage myself in trying to convince people. I’ll try to just say “The Wire is a great TV show, I had an amazing time watching it” without adding “you HAVE to watch it if you haven’t already.”
Old habits die hard. I wonder how well I’ll do. And since I’m only starting tomorrow, I’ll conclude by saying that this is one of a few epiphanies I’ve had in my life, I think it’s a great idea and you all HAVE to give it a try.