Verbal sparring 101: The nuclear option is effective but will leave you radioactive

I was sitting at a table with three other people, including a man about 20 years older than me. We were discussing professional conduct and manners in today’s world, and the older gentleman was complaining about how “rude and uncivilized” people are today. “Kids, you mean?” I asked.

“Not just kids. People your age, too. You’ve all loss your sense of civility.”

He went to on talk about the way people from my generation drive aggressively, curse, mistreat the elderly, stare at their phones instead of each other, and think more about themselves than anyone else.

I wanted to say something in response to this man’s allegations. Something very specific. But I knew that what I wanted to say might provoke an unfortunate and potentially volatile reaction from the man, so I exercised restraint and said nothing.

For one whole minute.

Then I said it. I couldn’t help it.

After listening to him describe low voter turnout and the shameful decline in civic duty, I said, “At least we don’t spit on our servicemen and women when they return from war.”

“What?” he said. I don’t think he could believe what I’d just said.


I couldn’t believe it either. I’m sure that the other two people at the table couldn’t believe what I’d said it, either. Both shrunk back into their chairs and attempted to become invisible.

Nevertheless, I pressed on. “We may stare at our phones too much and swear too much for your liking, but my generation doesn’t spit on soldiers returning from war like your generation did to Vietnam veterans like my father.”

It’s an argument I’ve come close to saying before to people older than me who seem to take pleasure in glamorizing the good old days and complaining about today’s generation while forgetting that no days are all good. But I’ve always held back, viewing it as the nuclear option.

This man caught me on a bad day.

As expected, he was angry with my response and denied ever doing such a thing. He also went on to argue to that not everyone from his generation treated Vietnam veterans poorly, and that it was “a different time in this country.”

“Of course,” I said. “Not everyone in my generation swears too much, either. We’re too busy ending the discrimination against gay people that your  generation continued for years and years.”

At this, the man stood up and moved to another table.

Neither person at my table engaged me in conversation after that, though one of them offered me a small but approving smile.

The nuclear option can often leave you as radioactive as the words that you said, as was the case here. No one at the table wanted anything to do with me.

This incident occurred about two weeks ago. At the time, I expected to reflect upon the incident and possibly regret my words.

But I don’t. At least not yet.

It wasn’t the best forum to drop a bomb like that, and I know that my response made the other people at the table uncomfortable, but I can only be told that my generation sucks for so long before I need to respond.

Maybe it’s true that my generation sucked, but what generation didn’t?

Besides, I grew up in the midst of the Cold War. The nuclear option is something I lived with for a long time. It only makes sense that I would use it from time to time.