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Sweet Reason: How Can I Discourage People Who Proselytize Me?


This article appeared in the SSA eMpirical No. 15 - Student Voice, Part I.

An advice column by Molleen Matsumura, "Sweet Reason" deals with life-concerns and problems involving Humanism, secularism and the nonreligious individual. Reprinted with permission from HumanistNetworkNews.org.

Sweet ReasonDear Sweet Reason,

I am a "fundamentalist magnet." If I am in a local supermarket or other public place, the evangelists
come straight for me.

I realize that as a woman I appear non-threatening and easy to target. And, to my chagrin, my reactions are rather meek (i.e. I say, "Thanks, but no thanks," and run in the opposite direction).

My reaction could be explained in two ways: a) since childhood, I have been socialized in the typical American fashion that as a woman I should be non-aggressive and b) I just find evangelists spooky.

So my question to you is this: What would be an assertive yet civil response when approached by an evangelist, either at my front door or at the supermarket?

I realize that I am the judge of what is appropriate for me, but my problem is that these people always take me by surprise and leave me tongue-tied. They have a tendency to show up at my doorstep while my hair is wet or I am wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt, which naturally undermines my confidence.

INAT (In Need of Assertiveness Training)

Dear INAT:

Good for you! A bit of rational self-assessment is the first step to solving many problems, and you're right to recognize that you can be assertive without being rude.

You are already asserting yourself when you say, "No thanks," but of course running away doesn't help you get your shopping done. You can become more assertive one step at a time, and decide later whether to go as far as making snappy comebacks. It should help to remember that it really doesn't matter whether a person is promoting their beliefs or selling used sweat socks -- when you don't allow them to invade your privacy, you are standing up for an important principle. It may be easier at first to stand up for the principle than for "yourself," and each time you do so will be good practice.

It's OK to take preventive measures, and in doing so you are still acting on the idea that your time is valuable. For example, you could display a "No Solicitors" sign outside your front door. Then, if you open the door for those who ignore the sign, you can simply say something like, "It's too bad you didn't see the 'No Solicitors' sign. Well, I'm going to get on with my chores. Good-bye." Avoid offering explanations, since they are all too easily taken as grounds for argument. You don't need to have an explanation for not allowing a stranger to presume on your time.

In public situations, walking quickly and purposefully discourages people from bothering you -- of course, that's not possible when you're stopping to compare prices or check apples for soft spots. Then, try simply stating the facts; for example: "I'm busy shopping and I don't have time for this," or "I can't talk with you; I'm busy." ("I can't" is an even stronger demand for the other person to do the right thing and leave you alone). Then, go back to your shopping -- pick up a box to read the label, or weigh your vegetables.

On the larger issue of building the self confidence to be as self assertive as you like, try inverting the Golden Rule -- treat yourself as you would treat a friend. People do wear comfortable clothes at home, and if your friend answered her door in a T-shirt, you wouldn't think any less of her. If you keep that in mind and think ahead about what you would like to say, you'll be ready when the time comes.

This article appeared in the SSA eMpirical No. 15 - Student Voice, Part I.

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