The weekend in DC was a great weekend away. We both enjoyed the quality time together, but it was not a weekend free from confrontation. As I mentioned above, Sujal and I had a mini-confrontation over what I’d said about the US not really being “victorious” in WWII.
On our walk to the mall, I had the trip’s first confrontation. We were enjoying our walk, seeing lots of buildings of “interest” groups and lobbyists. Then we were walking by a series of offices in what looked like row houses. In from of one stood some people holding pamphlets and some other people wearing bright orange t-shirts. My first thougt was something having to do with orange t-shirt wearing weirdos. Then I read the t-shirts and looked at the office. It was a Saturday morning and we were passing by Planned Parenthood. The pamphlet bearers where right-to-life protesters. The people in orange were Planned Parenthood volunteer escorts. Something tugged at me, and I had to go back and say something. Because this is an issue that is near and dear to me, I went back to thank the escorts for the very important work they are doing. They make it much easier for women who have made the choice to terminate a pregnancy. I am fervently pro-choice, so I really respect what they do. Of course, they would not have to do what they do if the pamphlet bearers were not there. As I turned around, the pamphlet bearers were closing in on me, telling me that it is a child, that God wants me to keep it. They thought I was going in for an abortion.
I firmly believe these pamphlet bearers have the right to protest and the right to free speech, but in the moment, I became filled with anger — anger because they make it so difficult for women to make up their minds; anger because if one believes in God, the christian God, then whatever sin he or she commits (if that is the case) is between the sinner and God; anger because they assumed something about me; anger because they want to take away my rights; anger because this is misogyny. On my way over to the escorts, I merely waived one pamphlet bearer off. When he began to preach to me after I turned to walk away, after he assumed I was terminating a pregnancy, I stooped to a low blow. I flipped him off. As a few more pamphlet bearers began addressing me, I flipped them off, too. As I walked away and they continued, growing louder, I continued to flip them off behind me. I knew Sujal was not too pleased that I made this gesture, and I was still angry. Later, I thought about it, and not that I would have ever planned to deal with a confrontation that way, I realized just how dismissive it is — and what I mean by this is that flipping them off makes them dismiss me — it invalidates my points. Granted, I was not about to get into an intellectual debate with them, but I weakened my position on the moral high ground.
So I began to think about conflict in those terms. Compassion is important, and so is respect. I may not respect someone’s viewpoint or opinion, but I can respect him or her as a fellow human being. This is, of course, not entirely new to me, but this confrontation clarified this thought for me.