A woman walks into a café, orders a coffee and, before she pays, crosses off “In God We Trust” on her $20 bill. The woman is me, and scratching the motto off money is something I often do.
This time the woman behind the counter gave me a look. Irritated, offended. She looked like she wanted to tell me off, or start an argument. But instead she shrugged, and said (paraphrasing here), “Whatever floats your boat.”
I felt uncomfortable. Like most people, I don’t like upsetting others or making them mad at me. I’m fairly comfortable with confrontation online—heck, it’s my job, and it’s a job I enjoy—but when it’s in person, it makes me feel self-conscious and anxious. While the woman was getting my coffee, I had a brief argument with myself in my head. Was this bit of visibility for secularism worth the irritation and offense I had caused? Had I actually turned someone off to the ideas I was trying to convey? Was it obnoxious of me to do my little “secular government” visibility action in front of the barista, who is professionally required to be polite to me and doesn’t have the option of telling me to piss off? In doing my visibility shtick and trying to open some eyes to some new ideas and questions, had I instead just closed a door?
Here’s what happened next.
Thus begins my first piece in my “Fierce Humanism” column for The Humanist magazine, How Confrontationalism Can Open Doors. To read more about how confrontation can start conversations rather than stopping them, and why confrontationalism and diplomacy aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!