How can I respond to my non-Christian co-worker?

Question

I always pray for opportunities to share the truth, and I’m
used to talking to people with many different worldviews. My
co-worker, though, is a problem. He knows that I’m “one of
those Christians,” because I’ve put up a big black poster that
says in radiant lettering “In the beginning, GOD.” So he begins
every conversation by poking his head in my office and
aggressively saying something ridiculous that is supposed to be
a profound statement about existence. The latest is “Nothing
exists outside of language!”, which would be impossible to
know unless you did know something outside of language. I
think he’s been reading the deconstructionist [philosopher],
Jacques Derrida.

In our latest dialogue, he refused to acknowledge such a
thing as truth or even to speak the word “true.” His substitute
is “valid.” I’ve asked him to give me a reason why I should
believe anything he says if there isn’t any truth; no result. I’ve
asked why I should even acknowledge his world view; no result.
I’ve tried to show him that he continues to invoke absolutes
despite not believing in absolutes; no result.

How can I respond? Maybe a scenario or two would help.
I’m not asking how to respond to his actual claims, but how to
respond to his character or attitude. That’s the real problem, I
think.

Answer

Be more aggressive! Your co-worker is baiting you, and
you’ve taken the bait every time. He doesn’t really mean any of
these foolish things he says; getting your reaction is just a
game. Though it may be fun for him, it wastes your time. So lay
out some bait for him for a change! He pretends to be bold and
daring, so dare him to stop dodging the really important
subjects. You asked for a few scenarios; maybe these three will
help you get the idea.

Scenario #1

Him: “Nothing is real but language.”

You: “If that’s true, then there’s nothing to talk
about.”

Him: “We could talk about talk, couldn’t we?”

You: “We could, but why don’t we take a chance and talk
about something that really matters to you for a change?”

Scenario #2

Him: “Nothing is real but language.”

You: “That’s 42 days in a row you’ve started the
conversation with something you don’t really believe.”

Him: “No kidding?”

You: “Uh huh. What’s really eating you? These
other 42 issues are just smokescreens.”

Scenario #3

Him: “Nothing is real but language.”

You: “Nothing we say about that subject would make any
difference to your life or mine.”

Him: “So?”

You: “So why don’t you tell me something that would?

Remember: Don’t take his bait; make him take yours. If he
refuses to have a serious conversation with you, don’t give in to
another phony conversation; instead change the subject to
football, or what he had for dinner last night.

Grace and peace,

PROFESSOR THEOPHILUS

Here’s how my reader responded:

Thanks for your advice about how to engage the bigoted
postmodern co-worker who badgers me with his daily
epiphanies. Here’s an update. I asked him if he even believes in
rational dialogue; he answered no; I then said that we have
nothing further to talk about. Even though I’ve done this
several times, he doesn’t get it! He won’t leave my office, and
he insists on asserting himself. He craves attention. Should I try
not to be bothered, and let it go?

I answered:

Yes! Try not to be bothered, and let it go. Before, he
controlled the field of battle; now, you do. It’s not just a clever
game for him any more, because he desperately wants to talk,
but the only way he can get what he wants is to agree to your
terms. He has to give up his right to be unreasonable. Who
knows — maybe he’ll give in!

Remember, though, you can’t let him play Bait and Switch.
If he agrees to be reasonable, you should agree to talk; but if
he then returns to his old irrational ways, you have to cut off
the conversation. Since he’s acting like a child, you have to
treat him like one.

Grace and peace,

PROFESSOR THEOPHILUS

Copyright 2004 Professor Theophilus. All rights reserved.

About the Author

J. Budziszewski

Professor J. Budziszewski is the author of more than a dozen books, including How to Stay Christian in College, Ask Me Anything, Ask Me Anything 2, What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide, and The Line Through the Heart. He teaches government and philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin.