When belief systems collide

Today during a conversation I used a common figure of speech. The person I was talking with then asked me never to use that figure of speech around him, because it offended his beliefs. I’m deliberately not specifying the particular phrase at issue, because I think it is beside the point, given that it was an phrase nearly everyone reading this has used as a matter of course.

He told me that he requests the same thing of everyone, and that it is a question of being considerate.

This little conversational exchange completely changed my view toward him, and I found myself feeling uncomfortable around him. Not because I have any problem with his beliefs (I don’t), but rather because I have a problem with his expectation that other people must pretend to not be themselves when they are around him.

I say this as a vegan who happily sits down to eat with omnivores. And I realize that it is an important part of my belief system that one should not impose one’s own beliefs on others.

So here we have a fundamental clash of beliefs: My acquaintance believes that I should pretend to be someone I am not, out of respect for beliefs that I do not share, whereas I believe that nobody should ever be asked to pretend to be someone they are not.

I haven’t figured out yet what I am going to do about this. It seems too aggressive/excessive to say “Well then, I guess we should stop speaking to each other.” Maybe I can send him an email saying that while I respect his right to believe whatever he believes, I am not willing to make any promises.

I guess, to be accurate, I could tell him that to make such a promise would be a violation of my beliefs.

Not sure. Maybe I’ll sleep on it.

6 thoughts on “When belief systems collide”

  1. I guess he’s hoping you’ll be “Canadian” about his beliefs: be so careful not to offend that you pretend to adopt other peoples’ beliefs. If only for a few minutes. To really play the role, though, you should apologize for not doing it well enough.


  2. Hm. This is interesting.

    I have a friend who faints when anyone mentions “keyhole” or other types of surgery. I’m not sure why and they aren’t either, but I’ve agreed to not mention the subject around them to help them out. (I don’t have much reason to mention it much anyway.)

    Maybe if you knew more about why they were making the request, it could help you decide whether or not you wanted to help them along.

  3. It sounds like you are feeling offended by his request. It also sounds like neither of you intended to offend the other. If it is truly a request then you are free to decline, explaining, if you like, why you are declining. And you each get to decide whether the value of continuing the acquaintance is worth the discomfort (assuming the situation doesn’t force the connection, as with a colleague). I wish you a good night’s sleep, and clarity in the morning.

  4. Sounds like he’s offended if you say the phrase, and you’re offended if you have to refrain from saying it.

    I think you should first make sure he knows what he’s asking of you by asking how he’d feel if you told him not to eat/wear animal-based products around you. If he feels like that would be unreasonable, then you two have common ground.

    Otherwise, consider if it’d be more “sacrificially noble” of you to give up a personal freedom around him to keep him from being offended. Think of something people do that legitimately offends you, and how that makes you feel. Is it worth not saying a phrase so you can prevent your friend from feeling that way?

  5. Heh, I hadn’t seen Sharon’s post before I submitted mine. I like how we started similarly :V

  6. All very good suggestions, thanks.

    Sally, I had never heard of keyhole surgery before. Fascinating. I am left wondering whether perhaps your friend was traumatized by seeing “Ghostbusters” as a small child.

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