Opinion: When is butting in acceptable?



Sarahbeth Caplin

You’ve probably been in this scenario before: You’re standing in line at in the Student Center to get food, or you’re at the library or any other spot on campus where space is limited, and there are people nearby having a conversation you find very interesting. Depending on the subject matter, you could be simply intrigued or feel very passionately and therefore desperate to throw in your two cents. However, societal norms say that it is rude to simply interject your own opinion in someone else’s conversation — especially if it’s a conversation among strangers.

I have to confess, I am guilty of doing exactly that. In fact, that’s how I met one of my current friends. I was studying at a table in the Student Center when I overheard her talking with two other people about religious fundamentalism in America (yes, you read that right). Once I overheard what was being said, there was no way I could concentrate on my homework, so I casually made my way over (which was only about three feet from where I was sitting), introduced myself and joined in. Thankfully, my intervening in that particular discussion was welcomed and not scorned; however, it could have gone much worse because I was technically being rude by intruding.

Most people have unique “how we met” stories that involve a variety of social events under many different circumstances. While joining in on discussions you find interesting is one way to meet people, I definitely wouldn’t recommend it on a regular basis for the obvious reason that it’s simply not your place to do so. Then again, there are some topics of conversation that I feel are not suitable for public discussion, and in some cases, you can’t be at all surprised if other people decide to join in. One of those subjects is politics — the best and fastest way to get anybody fired up. Another hot topic, pardon the pun, is sex.

On a separate occasion while waiting in line for food at Eastway Center, I stood in front of a girl who was discussing her latest drunken exploit to a friend on her cell phone. This girl was clearly distraught that the guy she sloppily hooked up with the night before wasn’t as cute as she assumed he was after she sobered up the next morning. Naturally, I turned around with a shocked expression on my face. Come on, wouldn’t you? The girl took my reaction personally and yelled at me for being “so rude” for “judging” her while she was “having a private conversation.”

Clearly, some degree of common sense must be used when deciding what to talk about in public. I’m sorry, but there is no such thing as a private conversation when you’re sandwiched between people in line at any dining hall on the Kent campus. Sometimes it’s appropriate to join in, but use discretion. If your conversation is intended to be completely private, stay at home.

Sarahbeth Caplin is a senior English major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].