You know, if you limit your conversation to non-controversial topics, you’ll never talk at all. And considering that these days people get pretty sensitive about a wide variety of subject matter — not just the Big Three of Sex, Religion, and Politics — then the gag on the mouth goes for all of us, not just me.
What an innocuous subject — table scraps, garden soil, animal intestinal byproducts — you wouldn’t think that glorified dirt would inspire such passion and emotion in certain people, but believe me, it does.
I found this out last week when I fell into conversation with a woman who, at first glance, looked like a normal human being, but the mention of compost did something to her eyes.
“There is a precise relationship between the mass of brown matter — straw — and green,” she pinned me into the corner. “And if you don’t get it right, you will never achieve success.”
“The Norwegian Artist gets his spring exercise by shoveling out the goat pen,” I made the mistake of replying (please understand: initially, I thought we were having a normal conversation). “He makes a big pile in the garden and we add vegetable detritus throughout the year.”
(And yes, I did use the word “detritus.” Even at the outset of the conversation I must have sensed a necessity to show that I speak in words of more than one syllable.)
The look in her eyes intensified.
“That is the wrong way of going about it,” she averred. And I mean that — she didn’t say it, she didn’t comment, she didn’t reply — she averred. “You can’t make proper compost that way. This must stop.”
While for the first time I heartily agreed with her, my mind wasn’t on goat pellets interacting with egg shells. I managed to glance at my watch (I don’t wear one), exclaim at the time, and extricate myself from the situation.
Aren’t we people funny? We have deep set, intrinsic beliefs about the oddest things — I’m not talking whether or not there is a God, and if there is, if He’s personal or distant; or the merits or drawbacks of particular government programs or policies; nor when life begins or ends — these are the meaningful issues, not the odd ones.
No, we get upset, really upset over whether you throw or pick when you knit; or whether or not you salt watermelon to make it sweeter; what you call carbonated cavity water — soda or pop; or if you identify the newspaper page with the cartoons as the comics or the funnies. Either with a long I or E; apricot with a short A or long.
In many ways, as long as we can keep from shouting at one another, the differences keep our edges sharp. There’s nothing wrong with disagreeing; spouses and siblings do it all the time. The problem comes when we focus on the differences and insist that they shouldn’t be there.
Just because we disagree doesn’t mean we hate. Just because we believe differently doesn’t mean we’re intolerant. Divergence isn’t deviant.
It is possible to agree to disagree. Even better, it is possible for both sides to actually listen to the other and be willing to make changes in their mindset. There are, after all, many effective ways to make compost.