Defusing instead of debating yields unexpected result

Mizzou GAP Jane (20)

Mr. Fortissimo’s wrath was extinguished by a few kind words and an offering of friendship.

by Jacqueline Hawkins

There are times when the goal in a conversation needs to be defusing, instead of debating.  I learned this at Mizzou.

“This looks delicious!  It looks like sushi!” he said angrily.

We get that all the time.  Mostly from men.  They are trying to provoke us to anger.  This young man however, had a lot of rage be hind his eyes and in his voice.  One of my co-workers said he looked like he wanted to eat someone’s soul.  The tattoos, piercings, and mohawk supported that notion.

He stalked around the display.  Seasoned GAP staffers didn’t try to engage him, but as I saw him move towards the young and less experienced volunteers, I knew I had to cut in so they wouldn’t unwittingly find themselves in an escalating fight they couldn’t handle.

My heart was pounding as I made my way over to their side of the display.  Instead of engaging him in a debate, I wanted to try something different.  Would it work?  I didn’t know.

“This looks like f***ing sushi!  It looks delicious!” he said again.

I laughed and casually leaned against the barricade.  I replied,“You remind me so much of someone I knew in middle school.”

“I don’t give a f***,” he spat.  He gave me and angry, questioning look.  He obviously didn’t expect me to go from that angle.

“Well that’s fine.  I’m just saying that you remind me of someone I used to know . We called him the Cube.  You remind me of the Cube.”  (I really did know a boy who was referred to as The Cube in middle school.)

“Whatever.  This looks like gummy bears!”

“Now hold on, sir.  Wait a minute.  You just said it looked like sushi.  They can’t look like two kinds of food at the same time.”

He clarified. “This picture looks like gummy bears.  The other picture looks like sushi.”

“Oh!  I see.  Okay.  We’ll we’re just showing folks what abortion is.”

“I say kill them all.”

I frowned thoughtfully and shrugged deciding to inject a least a little pro-life rhetoric into the conversation.  “Kill the Jews, enslave the niggers, kill the babies.  It’s kind of all the same thing,” I said nonchalantly.

He didn’t respond to my statement.  Instead he replied: “I’d like to kill myself and take some people with me.”

He couldn’t see preborn children as valuable (nor me nor anyone else, for that matter), because he didn’t see himself as valuable.

Whoa.  “I see…Well, I would seriously have to discourage killing yourself and your classmates.  That wouldn’t be good,” I said with ease.

A pro-life student I had been speaking with earlier chimed in, seeming to sense that I was diffusing and not debating.

“Look bro, if you ever want to hang out and talk, look me up.  My name’s Jason,” the pro-life student said offering his hand.

“F*** off,” he muttered.

“Come on, dude!” I exclaimed with a bit of lightheartedness.  “He’s just being nice.  I would have given anything to have someone say that to me when I was in college.  I didn’t have friends when I was in school.”

“There’s probably a reason for that,” he spat, trying to egg me on.

“There was!” I agreed.  “I was a total introvert.  I just hung out by myself which made college lonely and miserable.  So I know what it’s like.  You shouldn’t have to go through that.”

He didn’t reply.

“By the way, I like your tattoo,” I said, pointing to the ff musical sign behind his ear.  “Forte, forte right?”

“Actually it’s fortissimo,” he corrected, but without any venom.

“Oh yeah, that’s right!  I used play music in school but it’s been a while.  Fortissimo. Awesome.”

He shrugged and I continued:  “But look sir, regardless of how you feel about babies or your classmates, you shouldn’t have to feel like you’re better off dead.  I strongly suggest you see the school counselor so you can feel better.  And while you’re at it make some friends so you don’t have to be alone.”

“Yeah, definitely look me up and we’ll hang out and be friends.  My name is Jason,” he said offering his hand.

Mr. Fortissimo gave Jason’s hand a side glance and said pointedly, but without any hostility, “I’d rather stay anonymous.”

“Hey, that’s cool, but at least you know you’ve got a friend,” I said.

He was silent for a few moments.  I could tell all the wind had been blown out of his sails and he was much calmer.  He came there for a fight but got something completely different.  The crazy pro-life lady (me) took all of his  venomous barbs and turned them into points of friendly conservation.  The clean cut, bright-eyed, pro-life student offered to be his friend and hang out with him.  It probably wasn’t at all what he expected, but he certainly wasn’t going to be all hugs and giggles in response.

“I gotta go take a s***,” he said simply.  No anger, no ire, no venom.  But still some shock factor.

“Okay! I hope all goes well with that.  It was nice talking to you!” I said with a smile.

The young man who looked like he was going to eat someone’s soul walked away without anger and without venom, but with a whole lot to think about.  He probably had a reputation for being crazy and on the edge.  Plenty of people probably told him to get help.  But how many people told him to get help so that he would feel better?  Because he deserved more than living a miserable lonely life?  He’ll never forget the pictures, and I hope he’ll never forget that he was told that he deserved to feel peace in his life.  I especially hope that he and Jason do in fact become pro-life friends and hang out.

Jacqueline Hawkins is a CBR Project Director and a regular FAB contributor.

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One Response to “Defusing instead of debating yields unexpected result”

  1. June 18th, 2016 at 8:01 am

    María says:

    Some people just need to know they are worth loving. Good work! 🙂

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