Find anybody that knows me well and ask them to describe me and I doubt you'll find anyone that would say anything along the lines of "tends to avoid conflict".
I've never shied away from an argument whether it be debating with my Mother as a five year old about whether the footwear she required me to wear were sandals or shoes; fighting with my brothers about whose turn it was on the trampoline or more recently; whether England have a leg to stand on trying to wind me up as a Kiwi about the cricket.
I would go as far as to say I thoroughly enjoy a good argument. Having not-so-serious banter with friends or discussing matters that involve more personal investment and passion are some of the great joys in life. But these types of interactions are not actually of high consequence when they take place between good friends.
For the most part mutual respect means that opposing opinions can be heard without either party shutting down or being offended. Generally you are more open to opinions coming from people who matter to you or you admire.
The harder discussions to have are ones with people you have less of a rapport with and don't necessarily know the context your views have arisen. They may something flippantly or in passing that contradicts something you feel strongly about without having any clue they are doing so. It is addressing these kinds of comments that are difficult conversations to have.
Since settling in to my new community I have found myself avoiding conversations involving anything controversial more and more. There are only a handful of people who I have expressed my views on feminism and my faith to yet the topic has arisen many times. I have never been one to be very forthright with my opinion to those who haven't asked for it but I wonder if I have begun to teeter too much toward the other end of the scale.
I have met some kind-hearted, lovely people over the past few months, most of whom have either grown up with or adopted a very secular world view. There have been occasions when a comment has been made in passing followed by "oh I assume no one is religious here".
Only the briefest of pauses is left before the rant about the pointlessness of church or the irritating traits of outspoken Christians continues and my mouth remains closed. What should I have said? "Oh I actually I am." Perhaps that would have worked but the attention it would have drawn is not something I seek out and yet avoiding it leaves me with a sense of guilt and shame.
A couple of fairly close male friends like to share their views with me about the ridiculousness of feminism. I believe one of them even said to me "I don't understand the point. Why would you complain about having such a sweet deal?" My lack of response to that one I think may have had more to do with not even knowing how to pick one of the examples I could have used to contradict that argument.
However the fact remains that I did not stand up for myself and other females, I just gaped at him like a gold fish.
Using my voice
Sure it is unlikely my response would have changed my friend's opinion on the spot but sometimes it is just about being true to yourself and at least being open to the conversation. I was on night duty a couple of weeks back and was chatting to a colleague about our different upbringings. We touched on both the subject of religion and feminism and although we had completely different views on both, we still had a thought provoking and challenging conversation.
I personally love knowing where people are coming from and how they have arrived at the view that they have. We didn't try and change each other's opinion but we were genuinely interested in what the other had to say. It is important to keep challenging not only other people but also yourself. Christianity itself is not a straight forward, unchanging concept but rather is constantly evolving and being critiqued and refined.
Everybody has a voice worth hearing but not everyone has the confidence to speak out. It is unfortunate that sometimes the loudest voices are not the ones that really have the most to say. I've always maintained that I want to live a life that can be an example and positive influence on people I meet without ever imposing my views on someone else; approachable rather than confronting.
I can't quite put my finger on why but I think my confidence has been knocked at some point and I have stopped thinking that I have anything worth sharing. I resolve to change that and to stop backing away from opportunities to engage and learn. In avoiding clashing opinions I am not doing anyone any favours when I am holding back from letting people get to know a big part of what makes me, me.
Helen McIntosh is a 22 year old trying to create more than she consumes. Writing is a way of banishing any circulating thoughts to make way for the new.
Helen McIntosh's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/helen-mcintosh.html