Comment Of The Day: “Confession: I Wimped Out”


I am slowly catching up on languishing Comments of the Day. Where a Humble Talent comment is involved, I don’t feel too badly about a late posting; like Mrs. Q, Chris Marschner, Glenn Logan, Steve-O and others, he is a master of the form and has hardly been neglected. This post, from November, relates to the suddenly lively topic of the duty to confront, and is also a cherished genre here, the personal reminiscence.

Here is Humble Talent’s Comment of the Day on the post, Confession: I Wimped Out:

My Grandmother, who I loved very much, had a religious streak that often delved into the extreme.

She had been saved, you see. She was a morbidly obese woman until she had some kind of attack (I was never told what exactly, but taking my family history into account, I assume it was a heart attack.) and she saw an angel. Then she dropped 150 pounds, picked up a bible, and never looked back. The problem, I think, is that she, like I, see the inconsistencies between different sects of Christianity, and she wasn’t sure which one was right. She, unlike I, attempted to do as much as possible from as many different faiths as possible, often dipping into the absurd. She kissed the cross with the Ukrainian Catholics, danced up a Storm with the Pentecostals, bought an amazing amount of rubbish from Morris Cerullo, and tried her damndest to teach me the “And Also With You” responses at Roman Catholic mass. It was like she couldn’t say no; any of these things could be the gatekeeper to heaven, and so she had to try all of them.

There was a time when I was coming home from Fort McMurray, 1300 kilometers away from home (800ish miles) and the whole family showed up. I mean my immediate family of five, all five of my aunts and uncles, their kids, grandma and grandpa. And the 20 of us wanted to figure out where to eat, so we went through the list of local restaurants. Grandma was being belligerent about where we were going, restaurants were too expensive, too gaudy, too cheap, too greasy, not big enough (which might actually have been true), eventually one of my aunts got fed up, saying, “Mom… You’ve said not to literally every restaurant in town except Pizza Hut, so I guess we’re going to have to go there.” This was both true, and the worst way possible to pick a restaurant, but I digress.

We were hungry and frustrated. When we got in, we eventually ordered multiple family meals, had them bring out 6 pizzas, a bunch of pastas and salads, and breathed a sigh of relief… food was coming!

Grandma flipped her plate upside down.

Apparently, she didn’t actually have problems with all those other restaurants, she was fasting, hadn’t told anyone, and was apparently too embarrassed to admit it before getting to that point. I got fed up, and said, “Grandma, I drove 1300 clicks to get here. We got the whole family together. This isn’t going to happen again for years. We eventually settled on this restaurant after you vetoed literally every other place in town, and now you’re going to flip your plate upside down and not eat with us? No. Flip that plate back over, because you’re eating with us”

.Grandma flipped her plate rightside up.

And maybe this is just nostalgia, but she actually looked like she enjoyed the meal. She definitely ate, and she was definitely engaged. It was like she needed permission to do what she actually wanted to do. Regardless, afterwards, my mother had words for me. “Jeff,” she said, “you shouldn’t have spoken to your grandmother like that.”

“Probably not, but someone had to,” I replied.

“Probably, but you two have a good relationship,” she countered. ” It worked out this time, but if you get between her and God one too many times, you might end up not having a relationship. So pick your battles.”

Which is the counterargument of the duty to confront: Sometimes you have to play nice to get along, and does it really matter?

7 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Confession: I Wimped Out”

  1. “Pick your battles” has been one of the themes of my adult life. It’s very different from my childhood, where I was even more (if you can believe it) belligerent and combative than I am now. You learn things along the way, like “You might be right, but if you say the right thing the wrong way, you can still be wrong.”, “Some situations don’t have a win condition.”, “Not everyone is as Amazing, intelligent, experienced, sharp or humble as you.”, or “Read the bloody audience.”

  2. Concluded HT:

    Which is the counterargument of the duty to confront: Sometimes you have to play nice to get along, and does it really matter?

    I think this is right. One of the things we often face are not decisions about the ethical thing to do, but decisions about when the tradeoff between the ethics lesson to be taught and the repercussions thereof (because very few hang their head in shame, admit their breach, and offer contrition) is a net positive.

    This is actually harder than deciding to confront the problem — What value is their in ruining a friendship over an ethics lesson if that same lesson may be revisited at another time when conflict is less likely, for example, in a one-on-one situation rather than a public spectacle? There is the inevitable rule that no ethical deed, especially when you are correcting another person, goes unpunished.

    This is also an unnerving potential problem when dealing with strangers. Who knows when you may confront a person over an ethics faux pas and they turn out to be a sociopath would would happily injure or even place your life in jeopardy with his/her response? The duty to confront carries grave risk in some situations, much lesser risk in others, and is generally always going to lead to a confrontation — so you’d better be ready.

    This is the product of the world in which we live. Society has given its blessing to extreme hostility and even violence in the name of principle, politics, or feelings, and that is filtering down to people everywhere. It is brave and ethically worthy to stand up to that large, scary-looking man who cut the line in front of you, but if he maims you for your objection, can we say that it was objectively worth it even if he is ultimately held to account? Would your family be okay with you permanently walking with a limp or worse, even if said scary man was policing Interstate median garbage in an orange jumpsuit for assault and battery?

    I know I’ve raised the extremes here instead of talking about the likely, which is just some yelling and profanity or (hopefully) even contrition. Still, I think it’s very important for each of us to carefully consider which proverbial hills we will die on, because these days, that’s not as hyperbolic as we all wish it were. The duty to confront carries risks, and those must be carefully considered versus the benefits that are likely to be achieved.

    At least, that’s how I do it. I may take on that large man in the right circumstances, but before I do, I’m going to run through a tradeoff analysis and make sure I’m ready to defend myself, and not just with harsh language. I owe that to my wife and family.

    Great story, HT, and a fine ethics lesson.

  3. Great read. If we consider that the duty to confront includes the belief that every perceived microaggression must be confronted. I am not ready to go so far as saying I must confront persons exhibiting every behavior of others to which I disagree. Picking battles makes sense for a variety of reasons.

    • I hate when my mind gets ahead of me and I truncate sentences.

      The second sentence should be . . . every perceived microaggression must be confronted basically is a poison pill for the idea we have a duty to confront.

  4. Great story about a family situation that you just can’t make up – truth being stranger than fiction, I mean.

    A Facebook friend is in terminal Stage 4 TDS, and so he takes every opportunity to knock the Orange Man. So he did it again recently (because he commented on one of my posts), and I hit back. I reminded him of how Trump was known to be a Democrat before he decided to be a Republican (or, at least, a stealth Democrat who saw his chance to whip the whole gang of Republican weenies, AND Hillary).

    Friend had ranted about Trump’s lying (as he had done in almost every other comment he made), so, after I reminded him, I mused aloud, “Hmmm…so who taught him to lie?” He quieted down, for once.

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