I was in a car with a few friends earlier today when we got hungry and decided to try a drive-in. We pulled up next to Wendy's and placed our orders. An exchange of currency and a crinkling of paper later, we were happily munching and on our way again, when a friend turned to inspect my nourishment and asked why my meal consisted of two orders of large fries.

I explained that I was a Vegetarian, and both of us were surprised to realize it had never come up before. It's not that I'd tried to hide it or anything. There'd just never been a reason to mention it.

"You don't seem like one", another said.

I knew exactly what he meant. I wasn't that person who goes vegan for three whole weeks, advertises it to the world every time an opportunity arises, and gets in someone's face any time they're caught consuming meat.

Surprisingly, most vegetarians aren't that person. We're the normal people sitting right next to you who ordered the linguini alfredo instead of the chicken parmesan, and whether we're not eating meat because we're concerned about the treatment of livestock, the effects of large-scale fishing and cow grazing on the environment, or simply feel bad about eating the other folk we're supposed to be sharing the planet with, we all realize that getting in your face about it isn't likely to change a darn thing.

Back to my friends for a moment. As soon as I told them I was a vegetarian, they were full of questions. Why did I become one? What did I eat? What were my beliefs concerning meat consumption? I was their friend and they they trusted my opinions. This revelation about my dieting habits was fascinating to them. I was able to communicate my ideas and beliefs to a captivated audience who may not necessarily go home and give up their own regular eating habits, but who would certainly think twice about them.

Now consider a second scenario in which the first time we'd gone out eating together, I'd jabbed a finger in one of their faces and said "You're not going to eat that burger, you murderer, are you?" They would have immediately began defending their beliefs because those beliefs were being attacked and, furthermore, they would have judged me as well as the beliefs I stood for. I would have only added to their idea of vegetarians being ignorant fools who think they're better than everyone else. I wouldn't be surprised if their after-reaction wouldn't have been "hey let's go to Applebee's after this and order some steaks too."

It took a little longer for me to get my viewpoint across this way, but don't you think it worked a little better? Loud-mouthed activists (not to say all Activists are loud-mouthed) do not change opinions; they cement them, and do far more to hurt their cause then they could ever imagine. How can you insult someone and then expect them to agree with you?

No, it's not always best to wait for someone to ask where you stand on an issue. Maybe you overhear someone telling a black joke and you don't believe such racist jokes are appropriate. Waiting for him to ask you how you feel about racism is not the best idea, but if you do talk to him about it, do it in a non-challenging way. Instead of yelling at him and calling him a racist jerk, just calmly say "you know, that might offend some people". It'll go over far better. Trust me. I do it regularly. Come off like a cool, likable person, and people will consider your opinions important. Come off like a screaming jerk with an agenda and people will tune you out before you've finished your first sentence. Which approach really helps your cause in the long run?

Just consider how this applies for everyone, whether you're a vegetarian talking to a meat eater, a pro-choice person talking to someone who's pro-life, a Democrat talking to a Republican, etc.

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