I recently had the pleasure of talking about Esperanto with a fellow vegan.
As soon as I mentioned Esperanto, he started off on the offensive. “But hardly anyone speaks Esperanto right? It’s not useful for anything.”
Seeing where this was going, I said teasingly, “But where do you get your protein??”
“I think Esperanto can’t be as good as a natural language. How can something made up be as expressive, as poetic?”
“I don’t mind if you go vegan as an adult, but making kids go vegan is just wrong.”
“Esperanto is never going to succeed as an international language. That’s what English is for.”
“BUT PLANTS HAVE FEELINGS TOO!!!”
After my instinctual response to this guy, I started thinking that there are actually quite a few lifestyle choices where people tend to try and immediately shoot the idea down without really giving the other person space for making their case first. I’d like to call this “proteining” after the iconic “Where do you get your protein??” response to veganism.
The thing here is that these people are usually not interested in listening. They already know their position, and they want to impose that on you, even if they ostensibly seem to be asking for your feedback.
If you don’t get that instinct telling you what is going on, you can tell someone was proteining you after the fact – because the conversation consisted of nothing but their objections to your life choice and the person didn’t change their mind even a little.
There are many different lifestyle choices which elicit proteining and each have their tired out phrases which are heard again and again:
Veganism: Where do you get your protein?
Polyamory: I guess that sounds good to some but I prefer my relationships to be committed! / Oh you poor girl, you must be really in love with him to put up with that…
Esperanto: But no one actually speaks that, right?
Unschooling: Your kids are going to go out of control and become lazy failures if you don’t use discipline on them!
And so on.
You should of course make a distinction between proteining and genuine curiosity; sometimes the words said can be exactly the same, but when there’s genuine curiosity a real conversation can happen, and when it’s proteining, you’re talking to a wall.
When you identify someone as proteining, it’s probably best just to duck out of the conversation as soon as possible. I had a lot of fun by teasing the guy I mentioned above, which incidentally helped me not enter the conversation on his terms and get into a debate. In situations where you don’t have such an easy way of teasing someone, I guess you can just try to minimise your answers and find an excuse to change the topic.
Actually, in future I’d like to try stopping them and saying, “Wait a minute, you’re proteining me.” Then, when they ask what that means, I’ll explain the concept to them. That might work as a pretty good pattern interrupt too, I think.
Good luck! 🙂