Sunday, May 17, 2015

When People Say Stupid Things: An Alternative Response

by Dave

Do you ever get asked stupid questions? Try this one on for size: on a market trip the other day the meat vendor saw Stacey, Elias and myself and asked, “Hey, where is your black woman?” Polygamy is not rare here and he assumed I had another wife, or at least another woman on the side. This type of question is the norm as we walk around here, not the exception. Adoption outside of the extended family is rare in Cameroon, multiple women/wives is common, and seeing us with black kids leads them to certain cultural assumptions. But that does not keep it from being offensive. No matter how often it comes up, I will never like it when people assume that I sleep with someone other than my wife.

I have come to realize that we are not alone and families with adopted kids (or even just more than the average amount of kids) get asked stupid questions all the time. But from what I have observed, I think that we are fostering the wrong reaction to these questions. What reaction? Wit. We are brainstorming witty phrases and comebacks, the goal of which seems to be to make the other person as uncomfortable as we are.

I offer here an alternative, that I think will result in better conversations: try to build up the stupid-question-asker.

How to Build Up Stupid-Question-Askers
I think that there is almost always a way to build up a person that asks this type of question. Here are some ideas:

1. Ask them about themselves.
"Wow, are ALL those kids yours?" 
"Yep!" 
"You know how that happens, right?" 
"Absolutely. Do you come from a big family?"
Often you can redirect the conversation toward the asker. Talk about their brothers and sisters, their kids, or some of the challenges of child rearing. Bringing the conversation around like this treats them like a person, and not just like a troll. Some of these people do have malicious intentions, many of them are just curious, and all of them are created in the image of God. Show them the curtesy and interest that you wish they would have shown you.

2. Just Explain.
"Are they really your kids?" 
"They are really my kids: we adopted them and they became a part of our family. This is Kaden, Makyra, Elias and Zoey. They have come all the way from Ethiopia! Oh, and by the way, families like ours consider our kids to be really our own, not someone else’s. So, when you talk to adoptive parents you might want to avoid asking if they are “really” our kids."
Like I said before, most people are just curious. The question may be posed poorly, but they are not trying to offend. They want to know more about your family. So, tell them. In my experience the next response is, “That is so cool.” You can explain that their question was rude too. That might do a better job of stopping them from asking some other unsuspecting couple in the future.

 3. Share the Gospel.
"Are there not enough needy kids in America, that you had to steal some from another country?" (Real question, BTW) 
"We are really fortunate to attend a church where people are adopting from our State, our country, AND overseas. We did not feel like we had to choose, because together we are trying to reach all needy children. Did you know that when God decided to adopt people into his family he chose people from every tribe, tongue, and nation?"
There are some really good transitions into the Gospel with stupid questions. Family and adoption are two of the ways that God illustrated his saving grace and so any questions about our kids can lead to the Good News. Transitioning into a Gospel conversation can be so awkward, why not jump on something that naturally flows there? I think if we resort to sarcastic comebacks we are missing out on a great opportunity.

Why Build Up Stupid-Question-Askers?
Just in case you are still thinking up those witty comebacks, I thought I would give you a few reasons to take a different approach.
  • These askers are made in the image of God. They may have just offended you, and not treated you like you would have wanted to be treated, but they were made by God and for his worship. We are called to treat humans with a respect they deserve not because they are kind, but because their Creator is.
  • We are called to always build others up with our words. I have never walked away feeling closer to Jesus when someone intentionally made me feel stupid. I have walked away more like Jesus when someone gently confronted my stupidity. Galatians 6 calls those who are spiritual to restore someone caught in a transgression with gentleness. If we are called to be gentle with those that have actually sinned against us, how much more should we be gentle with those that are accidentally stupid.
  • You say stupid stuff too. James tells us, “if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.” Truth is, we all say stupid things, sometimes intentionally. And sometimes we say something that seems innocent enough without knowing the history and we hurt others. I know I have. And the biggest blessing for me was not sarcastic rebuke, but gentle grace. 


Truth be told, I write this as a reminder for myself. Ever since Jr High comebacks have come to my mind very naturally and I find myself wanting other people to feel stupid when they say something stupid. But I have come to the conclusion that this comes from my flesh and not the Spirit. We can turn offensive situations into an opportunity to build up, especially when we realize that the Gospel is that we have offended God and he chose to reconcile. I have seen blogs dedicated to brainstorming witty comebacks for these situations. I would love to hear how you all have turned stupid questions for the asker's good. Let me know in the comments!