a “thought experiment” is causing a cold war in my office

A reader writes:

I work in an office of ~20 people. The majority of us have lunch together in the conference room most days. It’s not organized or mandatory, just a preference for most of us. People drift in and out and sometimes skip if they have errands or out-of-office meetings that day. The only person who consistently does not join in is Carrie. She has a chilly personality, but she’s not rude or outright unfriendly, just keeps to herself for the most part if something isn’t work-related. That’s fine! She attends holiday parties or any outside work event our bosses organize.

However, one day a month or so ago, our IT contractor came in to update software, and Carrie did come into the conference room for lunch because the contractor was working at her desk at that time. She was quiet except for greeting everyone, which is normal, until another coworker, Steve, brought up one of his “thought experiments,” which is a common lunchtime bit he does, although not every day. He proposes the questions to the group at large — along the lines of the immortality pill or Mary’s room (concepts I wasn’t familiar with myself until they came up in these conversations). This time, his question was essentially, “If you had to choose between the death of one person you’ve never met or the destruction of all the works of Shakespeare (or another author you prefer), what would your choice be?”

Everyone was being flippant for the most part (i.e., “If I save the person, no kid will be forced to read Shakespeare ever again!”) until Carrie chimed in and said, “Shakespeare teaches us more about humanity that saving one life would, so I would save the plays.” This created a very awkward silence and made several people visibly uncomfortable. Personally, I thought it was a theoretical discussion (and was scrolling on my phone anyway) so didn’t take it too seriously. Steve seemed to feel the same at the time and debated with her a bit, but no one else said anything related to it for the rest of lunch and most everyone excused themselves quickly. I thought it was awkward but just one of those things that would blow over.

…which it didn’t. People started avoiding Carrie or being very curt with her almost immediately (like, that very afternoon). It’s not really the vibe in our office to email each other since we’re so small, but most everyone started emailing her when normally they would just approach her or speak to her over her cubicle wall. I honestly can’t tell if Carrie even minds the different treatment, but it’s so pointed I have to think she’s noticed.

The next day at lunch, Steve expressed relief the IT update was over so Carrie would stay away. Many chimed in with their agreement. Unfortunately, every day at lunch since at least one person will bring up Carrie’s response to the question and how freaked out they were by it and that will prompt a prolonged discussion about the weirdness and how people don’t want to be around her and how she’s always been “off.”

I don’t really know what to do! It seems so silly, but people are not backing down on avoiding Carrie or talking about how strange she is, when they never seemed to feel that way before. Our bosses are both about 10 years older than most of us (a couple in their 40s; most staff are late 20s/30s) and I feel like if I bring this up they’ll see the whole thing as childish and gossipy, and particularly judge anyone who brings it up to them. We don’t have HR.

For my part, I’ve tried to continue to approach Carrie the same way I did before. She hasn’t complained herself, so maybe I’m just making something out of nothing and she’s fine with the cost of one remark she made! Is there something I should say to my coworkers, or should I just hope they move on soon?

This is a really extreme reaction to a pretty mild discussion. In fact, those thought experiments are designed not to have an obviously right or obviously wrong answer; that’s why they’re thought experiments!

So I have to think that your coworkers’ reaction to Carrie isn’t about her willingness to save literary works over a human life, and is more about their reaction to Carrie in general — as evidenced by those “she’s always been ‘off’” comments.

Would they be having this reaction if a different person had chosen Shakespeare? I’m betting no. They’re freezing out Carrie because they didn’t like her to begin with — simply because she keeps to herself?! — and now they have something to pin it on. And it sounds like they’re all feeding off each other and reinforcing/escalating each other’s reactions, rather than each independently deciding to freeze her out without consultation with each other. We all saw this play out in junior high at some point; it’s pretty horrible that it’s playing out in your office.

So please speak up for Carrie! For example: “Y’all, it was a thought experiment. The whole point is that there’s not an obvious right answer for everyone. This is really unkind.” And: “Carrie took it as a thought experiment, which is how it was presented. She’s not a monster, and it’s awful to freeze her out and talk about her this way.”

I don’t think you need to escalate this to your bosses unless it starts getting in the way of work, particularly given your concern that they would judge you for bringing it to them. That said … are you sure they would? This isn’t just a small interpersonal thing; your coworkers are trash-talking Carrie every day and avoiding talking to her. That’s a pretty big deal, and a good manager would want to know about it and shut it down.

But either way, you should stand up for Carrie when you hear your coworkers talking badly about her, and you I hope you’ll make a point of being warm toward her yourself. That’s the right thing when you see a group turning on someone who hasn’t done anything to warrant it.

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 618 comments… read them below }

  1. MsM*

    I’d also be tempted to add that for people who supposedly value humanity and compassion over all else, their behavior toward Carrie is remarkably not reflective of that.

    1. Meep*

      That is pretty par the course with most societies when you look at history. It is always “compassion for me, but not for thee” anytime someone is considered “other”.

      1. Lauren*

        I agree with what’s been said. I feel the need to add Carrie makes an important point. A person’s death is a tragedy, but Shakespeare’s plays have had a far reaching and profound effect for reasons other that colonization. The death of 1 person would have an effect on our world; removing Shakespeare world would alter it beyond recognition. Carrie sees the big picture, her coworkers do not.

        1. Lauren*

          *please forgive the typo above*

          It also sounds as if there’s 19 of the same person working in 1 office who were not going to like her and Carrie already knew that, which is why she’s kept to herself. When you know you environment being “chilly” is sometimes the best option.

        2. Meow*

          For the record, I’m on Carrie’s side in this situation, but I wouldn’t automatically assume that people don’t understand the rationale behind her answer. When I was reading the question, I immediately assumed more of the coworkers would answer like Carrie, and am surprised that not only is she the only one who did answer this way, but she’s being ostracized for it.

          Trust me, most people in the English-speaking, Western world know and understand the far-reaching cultural implications of Shakespeare. It’s just pretentious to think it’s more important than one person’s life. If Shakespeare didn’t exist, there would be other cultural influences to fill the gap. Also, Shakespeare’s influence is confined to the Western world. It doesn’t affect all cultures.

          1. Meow*

            (But to be clear, the coworkers’ treatment of Carrie is totally wrong! The whole point of the “thought experiment” is the implied question of “what is more important – one human life or a culturally significant set of written works?” Carrie’s answer is implied in the question and shouldn’t be used against her.)

    2. duinath*

      thank you, yes. and if she’s such a monster for her answer, surely steve is a monster as well for asking such a question in the first place. ugh. this is seriously middle school behaviour i gotta say.

      (i do not care for steve. if you want to do this kind if thing at work you really have to be mature enough to actually treat it as a thought experiment, and not talk shit about people who disagree with you.)

      1. MsM*

        I don’t particularly like Steve’s idea of fun lunchtime entertainment, either (at least not with this group), but it’s not clear to me how much he’s driving the ongoing ostracization. Granted, he’s not doing anything to stop it, so that’ s not a point in his favor when he’s the one who set off this whole mess.

        1. MCS*

          Well, saying the very next day, around others, that he’s glad Carrie isn’t coming to lunch, which gave others the opportunity to agree (rather than having to take the lead on the topic), is participating at the least. and could very well have driven the escalation.

          Someone always has to make the first comment, and such comments give cover to the cowards who are willing to participate but wouldn’t actually take the lead. Maybe his wasn’t the first comment, but the context is a pretty bad look.

        2. Paulina*

          Steve both proposed the “thought experiment” and then said he was glad Carrie would be staying away. If this guy can’t stand people taking different positions, he needs to knock the “thought experiment” stuff off. (Actually he needs to do that anyway. It seems really egotistical to, multiple times a week, make lunch about your debate-topic-of-the-day. And it’s very cliquish. My guess is Steve didn’t like Carrie exposing a deeper perspective on his topic than he’d thought of himself.)

          1. Quill*

            Not to generalize too far, but this kind of behavior tends to come up in people desperate for people to acknowledge how clever they are. Steve is apparently not clever enough to not ask questions he doesn’t actually want the answers to, however…

          2. Ballandary Airlines*

            If this guy can’t stand people taking different positions, he needs to knock the “thought experiment” stuff off.

            Fully agreed; but:

            Actually he needs to do that anyway.

            Why? This is a lot more interesting than stupid lunchtime discussion about your kid’s potty training or whatever. And you’re not obligated to be part of every single lunchtime discussion in the canteen. If you dislike it, don’t participate.

            1. Michelle Smith*

              And be ostracized like Carrie? Great options there.

              There’s a reason why most advice about workplace discussions is keep controversial topics like politics and religion to yourself. This thought experiment junk is very close to that line.

            2. Irish Teacher*

              I think it would be interesting with the right group, but this…is not the right group. If there is one answer everybody is supposed to say and everybody just repeats that, then it’s not going to be interesting at all.

              And like Hannah Lee says, it sounds like it’s all about Steve. Again, it would be way more fun if everybody took turns at posing questions.

              And it seems like this is pretty much every lunchtime and the whole group is involved so not participating equals not socialising with one’s colleagues at all or just sitting there bored while everybody else discusses the topic around you.

              1. Polly Hedron*

                No, it wasn’t every lunchtime. OP said the thought experiments were “a common lunchtime bit” but “not every day.” It sounds as if different answers were allowed and the discussions would have been interesting, until Carrie’s answer gave the group an excuse to attack her.

        3. Hannah Lee*

          I don’t particularly like Steve’s idea of fun lunchtime entertainment

          +1 to that

          I enjoy a good philosophical discussion as well as the next person, at the right time and place. In the workplace on a lunch break is not really the right time and place to me. Unless the lunch is a designated “thought experiment” gathering, I’m willing to be at least a few of the people there when Steve launches one of these is like, aw man, can’t I just eat my pita sandwich and Snack Pack in peace instead of wrestling with some big moral quandary about re-routing trains or whether or not octopi are self aware?
          The fact that only one person keeps launching these discussions makes me think not everyone is as into these mind games as Steve is. It’s like if you’ve got one lunch companion who tries to turn every lunch into movie review time or a political discussion or nutritional analysis hour. You’re not Richard Dawson or Jimmy Kimmel the MC and host of lunch, dude.

          1. Ballandary Airlines*

            In the workplace on a lunch break is not really the right time and place to me.

            So don’t participate?

            1. Just Sayin'*

              In my experience, that kind of topic tends to monopolize the conversation. For people who decompress differently, that can turn a group lunch from “fun casual time to relax” to a sort of pop quiz. It’s not mandatory, obviously, but it can be frustrating to lose that opportunity to destress.

              1. Lydia*

                But it sounds like the people who were at the lunches were people who enjoyed that kind of thing. It doesn’t sound like anyone was forced to participate or even attend if they wanted to decompress another way. The issue here isn’t that Steve would do this or people would participate; the problem is that Carrie, engaging in what she thought was a casual conversation, is now being ostracized for her theoretical answer to a theoretical question. They’re all treating her like she stood on top of the table and declared children are worthless.

          2. CountryLass*

            I dread to think how they would respond to me… I got asked the re-routing trains one, about if you leave it on its course you will kill 5 by taking no action, or you can choose to kill one. I firstly chose to kill one by re-routing. Then they asked if it would change if the 5 were convicted serial s£x offenders. I said keep it going, but slow the train down… I got many stares and side-eyes… I’m not saying I DEFINTELY would do that, but that’s where my thoughts went on a thought experiment!

            1. Orphea*

              I mean, yeah. You basically said, “I’d kill those people in an unnecessarily sadistic way.” Did you think people wouldn’t find that alarming? Most adults are gonna be taken aback by edgy displays of sadism, even towards targets you think are deserving.

      2. bathing suit gown*

        Same, he’s giving off big “ooh I’m so edgy” vibes. You’re not 14 anymore, Steve, you can stop trying so hard.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Why am I so certain that Steve also plays Devil’s Advocate in situations that do not need it?

          1. Ashley*

            LOL I didn’t even see your comment before I thought to myself that Steve reminds me of someone I used to live with in university who loved to play devil’s advocate with me no matter what opinion I would give and it was so insanely insufferable.

            1. Quill*

              Anyone who wants to be the devil’s advocate needs to show me their certifications for both law and theology.

              1. MigraineMonth*

                Indeed. If even the Catholic Church no longer uses a Devil’s Advocate, my work lunchroom certainly doesn’t need one.

              2. Princess Sparklepony*

                I also want to see the singed clothing from visiting the Devil in his home.

            2. Emily Byrd Starr*

              I wonder if your roommate was the same person I lived with after college. This person did the same thing and claimed that he was “challenging” us to look at things from different perspectives- which is certainly a useful skill to have, but there’s times and places where it’s appropriate (i.e., understanding the needs of disabled people, queer people, etc.) and times where it’s not necessary and just annoying. For instance, there was one time when I amusingly said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if someone saw a plane with a banner advertising something, and thought it was a sign from God?” in a playful attempt to be humorous. Instead of laughing, he said, “But how do you know it’s not a sign from God? What if someone saw the banner, went to the store that was being advertised, and met the person they were going to marry? God works in many different ways” and basically turning the jokey, fun comment I made into a whole theological and philosophical thought experiment that I hadn’t asked for. Even our other roommate told him to stop, saying, “You’re just exasperating her!” Which he was. He finally dropped the subject, but then refused to talk to me for several hours and acted like I’d personally offended him.

          2. Distracted Librarian*

            This was my first thought. I’m sick of people who favor “thought experiments” or other abstract arguments over actual human connection. And in this case, his thought experiment is getting in the way of actual human connections.

            1. Lydia*

              I think y’all are reading a LOT into something the OP does not indicate is a problem in any way and that people usually participated in without problem.

          3. goddessoftransitory*

            I have the image of Steve in a cartoon devil outfit waving his edgy pitchfork in my head now.

      3. Weiner Mom*

        It’s interesting to me that this comment turned into an internet microcosm of what’s happening to Carrie at work.

        It went from speculation based on the little information we have to “Steve is the worst” in like 3 comments.

        It’s in human nature to do this and I’ve done it myself, but as someone who is usually the Carrie or Steve in this situation, maybe ask yourselves why you’re so motivated to find a single villan who caused this and not thinking about why groups are so easily guided to isolate and target one of their members and what we can do as individuals to stop it.

        Thought experiment questions, if everyone is having fun, are not the issue here.

        1. Expelliarmus*

          I see where you’re coming from, but it’s hard to say Steve is immune from blame when he later actively fans the flames of the “what a relief Carrie isn’t here” movement. If he didn’t do that, I would completely be willing to agree that thought experiment questions are not the issue here and Steve didn’t know what he was getting into, but the moment he went out of his way to be like “omg Carrie amirite” he lost a lot of my willingness to assume the best intentions on his part.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          I think there is a substantive difference between commenting “Steve’s behavior is the worst” on the internet and, you know, actively encouraging all of his coworkers to ostracize and freeze him out at work. The real-world effect of an anonymous internet comment about an anonymous person rapidly approaches zero.

        3. Astor*

          I’m with you. I’m totally fine with some the complaints about Steve, but some comments sound very gleeful about making him a villain without recognizing that they’re doing to him exactly what the other colleagues are doing. In OP’s story, Steve actually reacted totally fine to Carrie in the moment, even though he disagreed; it was other people who started treating her noticeably differently that afternoon! He shouldn’t have brought it up the next day, but other people have also kept doing that for a month. There’s a whole culture problem, and while it’s possible that Steve’s actually a ringleader, he also might just need a better job to learn to drop thought experiments at work and find good behaviour to emulate.

          To me, some of the comments about how terrible Steve must be seem mostly like it’s about finding a villain to dunk on than about doing anything else. It’s kind of making me laugh in a terrible “yup, this is why I’m not comfortable with thought experiments with lots of people” kind of way.

          1. Expelliarmus*

            There is absolutely no excuse for him to actively feed into the “omg Carrie amirite” talk. He may not be the only one doing this, but he is still going out of his way to mention it, and that’s unacceptable.

        4. MCMonkeyBean*

          The whole point of “thought experiments” is to encourage healthy discussion of both sides. “Steve is the worst” because he proposed the thought experiment in the first place, and then proceeded to initiate the ostracization by saying he was glad Carrie didn’t join them for lunch the next day. If he didn’t want anyone to argue the side of saving Shakespeare then he never should have brought the topic up.

      4. Rainbow*

        Maybe I’m way off, but Steve sounds like a laugh to me. I’d like to hang out with Steve.

        1. Rainbow*

          Oh. I missed the bit where Steve was joining in the bullying, whoops. Very separately to that, I don’t think that coming up with entertaining scenarios when the chat dies down is in itself bad, but rather enjoyable, though.

          1. Polly Hedron*

            I agree. I would like Steve’s thought experiments, if he had respected Carrie.

      5. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Yeah, I’d say that Steve is the one who sucks in this scenario. He asked a stupid question and stupidity ensued.

      6. Ann*

        Yes. It seems very unkind to ask a theoretical, no-pressure question, when in your mind there’s only one correct answer, and you’re willing to gang up and bully anyone who answers “wrong” endlessly. Although as others say, the answer is probably only “wrong” because it was Carrie who answered this way – and everyone at the office was already spoiling for a chance to take out the lowest sides of their character on her.

    3. GreyjoyGardens*

      It’s easy to have compassion for a hypothetical person (especially if it’s couched in What If It’s A Precious Child terms) but harder to actually walk the walk with someone in front of you who you think is a weirdo or “off.” Rather like the “I love humanity but I hate people” line.

      People don’t have to *like* Carrie, or be her friend, but they absolutely have to be courteous, professional, and friendLY. And this needs to start before everyone starts going “person eating crackers” on Carrie and finding everything she does annoying, because that starts to spiral.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Or what if the person had lived a long, fulfilled life would have died soon anyway? What if that person was an organ donor, and their death saved another life? Or even more than one life?

          Life is way too chaotic to know the long-term utilitarian value of our decisions.

          1. Worldwalker*

            Other considerations:

            Shakespeare’s only legacy is his work; if that disappeared, it would be much as if Shakespeare had never lived.

            The playhouses in Western towns were built, primarily, for traveling actors putting on Shakespeare’s plays. Without that purpose, the development of those towns (and of their popular entertainment) would likely be different.

            Movies, operas, Broadway plays, and more don’t just perform Shakespeare’s plays; they adapt them in different ways, such as West Side Story. Is there something “just as good”? Apparently not, or they’d be using that, too.

            Shakespeare’s plays have had a substantial effect on the English language. He coined words and phrases, and popularized others.

            So it’s not quite as simple as “a human life or some dusty old plays.” Those plays have profoundly influenced our culture, and removing that might be a change for very much the worse.

            Further proposal for the thought experiment: How would it be different if you asked the person?

            (yes, I’m one of the people who would be having a wonderful time debating that over lunch)

            1. Princess Sparklepony*

              Of course there are some fringe theories out there that Shakespeare was not the author of all his works… so you might still have the works but attributed to another author. (Just another thought experiment… if Shakespeare indeed did not write it, would you lose it when you lose Shakespeare’s works? )

              1. Hans Solo*

                Regardless of who wrote it, the plays stand on their own along with their contributions to language. Unless I misunderstood your ( ) comments.

    4. Rose*

      Thought experiment: If someone tells me during a light hearted conversation that they would theoretically do something that I find cruel, am I now justified in being cruel to her in real life?

      OP maybe pose this one for the team to think over.

      1. HonorBox*

        This is a great one to pose. Hopefully there’s at least one or two others who would be introspective about their actions related to Carrie and her answer. It was a hypothetical… Carrie didn’t murder someone during lunch.

      2. Budgie Buddy*

        That would be a good time to reflect on the fact that your lighthearted conversation topic wasn’t as innocuous as you thought and be more thoughtful about topics you introduce in the future. In this case Steve was the one who introduced murder, not Carrie. She just voted for one of the options he offered.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          Yeah, I find his choice of conversational topics way off.
          Steve has no idea the entire personal backstory of everyone in the room.

          a) contemplating murder or other harmful actions in the workplace, even hypothetically, is not lighthearted or innocuous
          b) people from different backgrounds, cultures, spiritual beliefs can vary widely in their experiences and values – if there’s a shared norm of everyone being professional and friendly in the workplace, why purposely go digging around to find points of stark disagreement on unsolvable moral/ethical issues? Like, what good are you hoping to accomplish with that?
          c) Steve has no idea who in the room may have had a loved one who was murdered, or who was nearly killed by a train after someone messed with the switches or whatever they’d be reminded of by today’s episode of Steve kills an hour and gets his kicks by stirring up passionate disagreement over lunch.

          Plus LW’s co-workers are being big ol’ childish bullies.

        2. Crooked Bird*

          Yeah, honestly Steve is an idiot. He proposes this topic & then he’s one of the ones to openly blackball Carrie for answering HIS question?

          Own your bad decisions, Steve.

      3. Worldwalker*

        The syllogism is like this:

        Carrie took the side of doing something cruel.
        Cruelty is wrong.
        Therefore, we will be cruel to Carrie.

        I want to take these people and bang their heads together to try to jar some brains loose. If hypothetical cruelty is a bad thing, how much worse of a thing is *real* cruelty?

        And the hypothetical situation is a trade-off: which of these two bad things do you think is less bad? The real situation has no trade-off: the choices are one good thing and one bad thing — and they chose the bad thing.

    5. Susannah*

      So well put.
      I’ve seen so often when people are introverts, or shy, or just not that social – others (especially when you’ve got a bit of a group think going on here, which sounds like it’s the case) then use that difference to exclude that person further. So, punishing her for her personality, and blaming her personality for her punishment.

      1. KatieP*

        As an introvert who generally eschews large group lunches, unless it’s a celebration or lunch meeting, that’s definitely a thing that happens. If someone doesn’t end the cycle, Carrie will find herself in an environment that’s toxic to her (if she isn’t already in such an environment).

        LW should definitely callout the teammates on their bullying.

        1. Weiner Mom*

          Same. In my case I have autism so I know if I talk for too long I’ll say something that allistic people will find “off” so I’m kinda damned if I do and dammed if I don’t.

          I wish more people would head off these social pile ons when they’re uncomfortable. Usually I have to do it by myself.

          1. Ann*

            That may well be why Carrie keeps to herself. She may have been burned by not fitting in with the crowd before.

        2. Ballandary Airlines*

          Shockingly, if you don’t socialize with people, they’re less likely to socialize with you.

          This is not a “problem” to be remedied; it’s like blaming the universe because you’re cold if you step outside in a T-shirt in Boston in February.

          1. Astor*

            I think you’re saying that the way people are treating Carrie is well-deserved because she’s not social? But there’s a huge difference between “less likely to socialize with you” and “talk daily about how terrible you are”. People in Carrie’s position often know that they’re trading some goodwill in order to take their preferred lunch, and have decided that they need their lunch-time more. It doesn’t mean that they hate other people or that it’s okay to hate them for it. It’s a natural consequence that you don’t know them as well and therefore don’t extend them quite as much grace, but you shouldn’t need to know all your colleagues well in order to extend them grace and make fair decisions.

            With your ending example, this is more like how it’s still a problem to lock me into an industrial freezer even if I usually take the garbage out in a T-shirt in Boston in February. Just because I don’t bother to put on an uncomfortable jacket because I’m okay with being a little cold for a little while doesn’t mean that I never get cold.

            1. Ballandary Airlines*

              I’m not speaking about Carrie.

              I’m speaking about @KatieP, who writes, “As an introvert who generally eschews large group lunches, unless it’s a celebration or lunch meeting, that’s definitely a thing that happens.”

              Of *course* you’re going to get excluded from group lunches if you “eschew group lunches.” If you continually turn down invitations, you can’t be surprised when they stop coming.

              1. Lunita*

                I took Katie’s comment to mean that the exclusion goes beyond not socializing, just like is happening in OP’s letter.

                1. KatieP*

                  Yep, that’s what I meant. In toxic environments, the introvert can find themselves shunned, and made a pariah.

          2. Worldwalker*

            This is not “not socializing” — this is middle-school bullying. Which is wrong in middle school, let alone in a professional office setting.

    6. Harper the Other One*

      +1 – I couldn’t put my finger on why this bothered me extra and you nailed it

    7. Trout 'Waver*

      Yeah. This is textbook bullying behavior and everyone involved needs a reeducation on behaving like an adult.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*


      And all sorts of bad faith arguments. They’ve started from the position that she’s weird, and used her (relatively mild) response as confirmation of her weirdness.

      1. MadCatter*

        The question itself was in bad faith if there was only one “correct” answer. It’s not a thought experiment it’s a test at that point.

        1. Distracted Librarian*

          This right here. As Alison pointed out, thought experiments by definition don’t have a single correct answer.

    2. bamcheeks*

      yeah, this is awful, and LW, I would probably be more direct than Alison suggests. I’d check in with Carrie and ask how she’s feeling, and tell her that you’d support her if she wants to speak to any of your managers or HR about any unkind comments or mean behaviour she’s experiencing.

      this isn’t a reasonable reaction to what Carrie said: it’s nasty, cliquey behaviour in which people are clearly taking some kind of pleasure in freezing Carrie “out” because it makes them feel part of the in-group.

      1. Seal*

        this isn’t a reasonable reaction to what Carrie said: it’s nasty, cliquey behaviour in which people are clearly taking some kind of pleasure in freezing Carrie “out” because it makes them feel part of the in-group.

        The fact that so many adults never progress beyond the junior high mean girl phase never ceases to amaze me.

        1. Rex Libris*

          The saddest thing I learned when I became a manager was how much time and energy gets spent on trying to get grown-ass adults to not act like 12 year olds.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            Leading a team wears me out more than doing my own work. Some adults are…well, they’re not.

          2. World Weary*

            I had a colleague whom told me that the only training she ever found helpful as a manager was a class on parenting young teens that she had taken with her husband

        2. andy*

          That is because your junior high is template for life. You don’t progress from that, you learn patterns of behavior there.

          It takes actually raising kids and telling them this is wrong to raise adults who don’t do that.

          1. mymotherwasahamster*

            Right?? Years ago I was astonished how much law school was “just like high school.” After being in the real world for a while it’s apparent that it isn’t. Like you said, development often just STOPS at that point. Life isn’t “like high school”—high school, alas, is life. Except you don’t find out until later.

            1. Hans Solo*

              Love your last line. I too was sad when I went to college and saw this and THEN when I started work, was shocked at how unprofessional people were.

    3. idwtpaun*

      I was coming here to comment just that, it’s absolutely bullying and I’m horrified at the LW’s coworkers’ behaviour. I’m going to be charitable and say that among the clique mentality of it all they’ve lost the ability to objectively assess what they’re doing and someone needs to call them out on it.

      1. ferrina*

        Depends how much social capital has and how they use it.

        I’ve been in OP’s shoes and had it turn out well- one of the tricks is to give people an opportunity to save face. If you have to challenge someone, do it in private. Don’t try to get an admission of guilt. Even “Nah, I though Carrie’s response was super interesting. I know she tends to keep to herself, but I like when she joins in!” or “Huh, I’ve always found Carrie to be direct but not rude.” or even “Wow guys, this isn’t Criminal Minds! There isn’t some deeper meaning in this- I mean, I took a Harry Potter quiz and it turns out I’m a Slytherin, but I’m not going to join the Death Eaters any time soon.” (or similar pop culture analogy that will resonate with your coworkers)

        That said, it can also go wrong if the dominant personalities are deliberately targeting someone. They can also retaliate if you try to defend them. I’d argue it’s worth it to still speak up, but maybe also get yourself out of that toxic environment? But I don’t think that’s happening here- it sounds like people feel like they’ve been given tacit permission to target Carrie (not explicit, as would happen with the mean girls). If OP takes away that tacit permission, they’ll likely simmer down.

        1. Irish Teacher*

          Sometimes you can also deliberately misinterpret what they say, though I think it’s gone too far here. I had a manager once who was brilliant at that.

          “Did you hear what Carrie said to the thought experiment?” (said disapprovingly). “Oh yes, really interesting, wasn’t it? I wonder if she’s a fan of Shakespeare.”

          It did usually work because most people didn’t want to make it clear that they were actually trying to start mean-spirited gossip, but…Steve and his friends don’t seem too bothered about that.

          1. Northerner In The south*

            I agree with this tactic at times — as someone born north of the Mason Dixon line who moved south, I make sure to warmly thank anyone who says Bless your heart’ to me (and I’ve had some say it several times as if they couldn’t believe I didn’t get the insult they meant) lol

            1. Seriously*

              Several times? Interesting. Born and raised in the Deep South, and we only say it once, and move on lol. It’s supposed to be subtle, not bang over the head.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        That is a risk, but the alternative isn’t great, either. Not standing up to a clique that was bullying a middle-school friends is one of my greatest regrets, and the clique turned on me anyway.

        Obviously, the stakes are very different between middle school and a professional job, but keep in mind that these are people who turned on someone for a single comment about the importance of Shakespeare (since no, she wasn’t actually advocating murder).

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          It *is* a risk, but…as you pointed out, even if OP doesn’t stand up for Carrie, they could find themselves staring up at a bus anyway. Judy Blume’s “Blubber” had an excellent illustration of this – the narrator joins in the bullying of an unpopular classmate, but soon finds herself on the receiving end after offending the horrible mean girl ringleader (who had the whole class thoroughly cowed – “everybody knows you don’t cross Wendy”). I hate to point out that these are actual elementary school children, not presumably adults in a workplace!

          OP, you might want to make a backup plan in case you do find yourself the next victim. I hope you are not in a very competitive field or the only support for a family!

    4. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      There are two types of people in the world: one of us and one of them. Their existence is a threat to ours so we must respond accordingly. /s

    5. Momma Bear*

      I bet that there are a number of reasons Carrie doesn’t join the group for lunch, some of them might be the group mentality. It’s easy when you’re “in” and part of the fun, but hard when you’re the outsider and have to sit in. Looks to me like the problem isn’t that Carrie is “weird” but that the lunch group is insular and juvenile.

      A lot of people do other things for lunch/need a break from people. Carrie might simply be an introvert who needs time in her day to recharge.

      But regardless – I agree that this behavior is not acceptable. They don’t have to eat with her to treat her professionally the rest of the day. This needs to stop. I like the suggestion to call them out as well as to check in on Carrie and make it a point to treat her with respect.

      1. Rob*

        I think you hit the nail on the head. Carrie sized up the dominant personalities of that lunch group when she started and could tell they were bullies and into being the popular people at work and said no thanks.

      2. KatieP*

        I was wondering this as well. As the resident introvert in many of the teams I worked for, the only one that I actively avoided having lunch with was the group that had labeled me as weird for prioritizing my classwork (I was finishing my degree while working full-time+) over socializing.

        Truth be told, there was also some internalized misogyny going on in that group, and I don’t care enough about making misogynists happy to bend my personality or my values to fit their mold.

    6. I did a lot of research on bullying once*

      Ding ding ding!

      LW, please continue to not engage with the meaness and to stand up for Carrie. Bystanders not letting bullies think their behaviour is OK is one of the best tools to stop it.

  2. English Rose*

    Spot on advice from Alison – this is horrible herd behaviour from a group of so-called adults. OP please do speak up for Carrie.

    1. ferrina*

      I’m so impressed by Alison. This is such a thoughtful response. She hit the nail right on the head in this one.

      I hope OP does speak up for Carrie! Especially if OP is well-liked and has some social capital to spend- this is a great way to spend it, and hopefully it will help the co-workers not reflexively dislike the quiet person who comes across oddly.

    2. NoOneWillSeeThisComment*

      Alison read my mind on this one. I hope OP does speak up. Comparing it to junior high really reminded me of some of the bullying I experienced and it feels like that is a perfect comparison.
      Hell, I don’t blame Carrie for liking quiet/personal time at lunch if you’ve got a coworker who presents thought experiments on the regular. The last thing I want to hear at lunch is philosophical debate.

  3. Dust Bunny*

    Maybe don’t do “thought experiments” if you don’t really want to know what people think?

    I get that these were intended to be light but when you ask something like this you kind of have to accept that you don’t get to control the outcome. Otherwise, why do a “thought experiment” if there is an unspoken expectation that everyone will more or less agree?

    (I’m not opposed to stuff like this but I wouldn’t participate in it at work specifically because I don’t really want to get into it with my coworkers.)

    1. CR*

      Yeah, this does not sound like fun lunchtime talk guys. Talk about what TV everyone is watching.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Also, I guarantee you that everyone else in the office holds an “unpopular” opinion about something, it just hasn’t been exposed yet. Do unto others . . .

        1. Green Goose*

          Yes. When I was teaching conversational English to adults there were some “light hearted” ice breakers that were really not that light hearted and could be pretty awkward. So I started removing some.

          One of my coworkers had one (I wish I could remember what is was, but it was something to do with sadness) and the student went into an explanation of their severe depression and my coworker and the rest of the class didn’t know how to react, which I think was hard for everyone.

      2. Gen*

        Back in the 00s my office stopped talking about books at lunch when I described the novel I was reading at the time, it was an alternate history of the world starting from the Black Death wiping out Europe. You’d have thought I’d proposed personally going back in time to dispatch medieval peasants with my own hands. First time I’d really talked about literature outside an academic setting, I was baffled by the strength of the response. I’m also the less-chatty RBF type too

          1. rural academic*

            Was it Kim Stanley Robinson, The Years of Rice and Salt, by any chance? I know that book has a similar premise.

            1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

              oh I read that once. It was a good thought experiment but it felt kinda tedious to me in the end.

          1. Gen*

            Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson, it’s a cool read with an interesting twist towards the end that had me rereading it immediately

        1. Really?!*

          Not surprising. I’ve come across people who are very literal in a variety of situations. Based on your examples let me offer, how this could play out:

          If you read the book, obviously you must agree with it, otherwise once finding out the premise of the book you wouldn’t have selected it. You should only read books whose premises are correct and appropriate.

          See also, actors are not acting. They believe what the character is doing is right, otherwise they would have not selected the role. Actors should only take roles whose storylines are correct and appropriate.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            It always cracks me up when people say this. By their logic, if I wrote a horrible villain, I am not writing — I must really be a villain and the book is really my diary! :P

            Who gets to decide what correct and appropriate is? If you ask, of course it’s them.

            1. Aquamarine*

              Yes, what is going on? Do people not understand what fiction is anymore? Lately it seems like when something bad or even questionable happens in a book or movie, people rush to condemn that thing and the person who wrote it. Like, obviously if you put bad behavior in a book, you must be an advocate for this bad behavior, right? And I’m thinking – um, it’s a story. How boring would every story be if everyone only did the right and perfect thing all the time?

              People are weird.

              1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

                And often the bad things a character does are there to show that the character isn’t awesome. Heck, getting into how the bad actions affected other characters is a way of laying bare the badness.

                1. Irish Teacher*

                  This reminds me of how back in the ’90s, the national TV channel in Ireland got a string of complaints about a character being seen going upstairs with a woman who was not his wife. The weird thing was the character in question was clearly a villainous one, a rascally solicitor who had been struck off for scamming his clients. He wasn’t exactly meant to be a role model!

              2. MassMatt*

                Irony, both dramatic and especially literary, is an endangered art form.

                Which itself ironic, given the default mode of so much pop culture revolves around disinterested sarcasm.

            2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

              It’s extra silly because, in a lot of cases, you also wrote a hero who opposes the villain. But that apparently doesn’t matter to those folks.

              1. Elizabeth West*


                Like, this story trope has been around since before the written word. -_-

          2. HoHumDrum*

            within this calendar year I saw a Take on twitter that said sex scenes in media are morally wrong because the characters can’t consent to you watching them be intimate so…yeah, the divide between reality and pretend is growing blurrier for many

            plus from the other end, there’s the people who call humans around them NPCs* and do weird pranks to freak them out under the guise of “those people aren’t really real though”

            so yeah, there’s so many people who so strongly empathize with fictional characters they don’t process them as fictional, while others are dehumanizing real life people around them for jokes. these feelings, “who is a ‘real’ person to me?” have been throughout all of humanity history of course, but I do feel like being online adds a surreal layer of the “unreality” feeling that can enhance these issues

            *video game term: “non-playable characters”, in this case meaning they are of lesser importance and lack depth or internal thought. yeah…

            1. kendall^2*

              NPC started as a role-playing term before video games, and it stood for Non-Player Character, ie not a character that one of the people in the game was playing. It totally could have been a playable character had someone chosen to play them instead.

            2. MigraineMonth*

              I think NPC (non-player character) is actually from D&D. It’s anyone the players’ characters run into, generally given voice by the game master. The random guards you sneak past are NPCs, but so are significant characters beloved by the players. I’ve seen players get so attached that they cry when an NPC dies.

              1. Spencer Hastings*

                This is true, but the internet phenomenon of calling actual people “NPCs” comes from video games — if an NPC’s one line of dialogue is “Welcome to Corneria” or whatever, that is all they will ever say. Whereas an NPC in a tabletop RPG could say whatever the GM wants them to.

                The analogy is to people parroting party lines and not thinking for themselves, I think.

            3. Emily Byrd Starr*

              The tweet you saw about sex scenes is false, because 1) they’re not really having sex and 2) they gave their consent when they auditioned for a show where they’d be doing sex scenes.

              As for NPC, that’s just cruelty.

          3. StephChi*

            Absolutely. This reminds me of people who say they hate a particular actor because they hate a character the actor played in a TV show or movie. They’re an actor, it’s a role. The actor isn’t the freaking character!

            1. SheLooksFamiliar*

              A somewhat famous actor who played a truly awful character spoke at an event I attended. He said most people understood he was acting – ‘I hated you in that movie because you were SO GOOD at being a jerk!’ He enjoyed that.

              But some people yelled at him or worse for being such a miserable human. He gave up trying to convince them he was a nice guy, they didn’t want to hear it.

              1. Worldwalker*

                There is a story that the actor Werner Klemperer, who had been invited to be the grand marshal of some parade, was uninvited because of “his Nazi past.”

                That past? He played the bumbling, cowardly Colonel Klink on the TV show “Hogan’s Heroes.”

                1. SnappinTerrapin*

                  He was one of several actors in that series who were refugees from Nazism.

                  He said that he would have declined the part if the premise of the show had not been to ridicule the Nazis.

                  That makes the disinvitation even more ironic.

            2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

              Yeah, there are a few actors I need to remind myself aren’t their characters and that my weird feelings about them just mean that they’re super good at what they do. I wouldn’t ever be a jerk to them, though.

            3. GreyjoyGardens*

              I remember that poor boy who played Joffrey on Game of Thrones gave up acting to study philosophy, partly because people got him mixed up with Joffrey and were rude, or worse. I felt bad for him. People need to do better at distinguishing fiction from reality, or we’re all going to live in Tipper Gore’s “I told you about vidya games” Cr*psaccharine World.

              1. allathian*

                Yeah, I hate when that happens. Jake Lloyd also quit acting after The Phantom Menace because of all the mean feedback he got from supposed Star Wars fans.

                OTOH Tricia Helfer who played Number Six in the Battlestar Galactica remake
                has said that some fans she met at cons seemed relieved that she wasn’t as scary in person as her character was on the show. So it can work both ways.

            4. Bunny Lake Is Found*

              Sometimes, though, it is just how your brain gets stuck. I just could not understand the appeal of “Ted Lasso” because I thought Jason Sudeikis looked evil.

              Turns out his performance in “Colossal” really burned itself into my brain and it took several episodes of middle America idioms and general niceness for my brain to stop waiting for the reveal that Ted was secretly the bad guy (in a show with an actual cartoon villain as a character).

          4. Despachito*

            Sadly, that is true.

            I remember an old actor from the times long bygone of traveling theatre companies. They would usually sleep in the houses of the inhabitants of the city they performed in. He had agreed with two elderly ladies to sleep in their house, they were very nice, no problem. After the play (where he played Judas), he came tired to their house but he found it locked and they shouted out of the window that had they known he is so wicked they would have never let him in.

            And in modern times people writing to actors playing baddies “stop tormenting your poor stepchild, you wicked witch” or “stop cheating on your wife, can’t you see how she suffers”?

          5. Mirradin*

            Oh man, I’m in a social hobby that revolves around writing and it’s Amazing how prevalent that first one is.

          6. Cherries Jubilee*

            That kind of baby brain sh*t is taking over certain corners of Tumblr and Twitter, particularly in regards toYA novels. the same kind of a half-baked worldview that would think that an actor is bad for playing villains, or that depicting structural inequality or bigotry is the same thing as the work of art endorsing it. This is why we need more media criticism and literature education.

            1. MigraineMonth*

              It is legitimate to critique works that do endorse bigotry, though. Protagonists don’t need to be heroes, and heroes don’t need to be flawless, but if a text treats the bigotry as a good thing or even morally neutral, I have a problem with that text.

            2. GreyjoyGardens*

              I recall someone saying that YA Twitter’s cutthroat atmosphere was worse even than prison – and they were an ex-con! I think a lot of the trouble there starts with the fact that there are more hopeful YA authors than there are readers, so the competition is extremely fierce.

              This kind of mentality has to go. Just because I read, for instance, Clan of the Cave Bear doesn’t mean I want to *live* the Neanderthal life, for Pete’s sake.

              1. Tom*

                Yes. It’s worth noting that you never hear about a cancelation controversy involving jobs where you have few people applying for lots of openings.

          7. Arts Akimbo*

            My child is on the autism spectrum, and I go round and round about this with them. Their first impulse is always to think that actors agree to take these roles because secretly they are just like their characters. But spouse and I never let this slide, because being able to tell fiction from reality is an essential life skill. I swear, being a parent means constantly checking in on your kid’s critical thinking skills.

        2. book talks*

          The Years of Rice and Salt? That was a good book, and it’s very weird that they took the premise personally. (Although, I have some thoughts as as to why they did…)

        3. GreyjoyGardens*

          Was it the Years of Rice and Salt?

          There seems to be an odd trend these days of “if you consume other than the most pure and wholesome fluff in art and literature you must be a bad person who wants to kill people or abuse them.” Then how does Stephen King sell all those books? Surely it can’t be because they want plagues, rabid dogs, or killer cars to wipe out all humanity. Do they go to museums? Half of Renaissance and Baroque art is some form of Jesus suffering on the cross, does that mean they want to personally go around crucifying people? Give me a break.

          Signed, fellow lover of fantasy and alternate history

        4. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          solidarity – one of my favorite book series is an alternative history series starting from the premise that the Confederacy didn’t lose the Civil War and describing how the next century goes with the USA and the CSA sharing a border.

      3. DataSci*

        Ugh. I’d rather have the thought experiment. At least that way I could just say “Hm, that’s a tough one” to pass rather than bumbling around like an idiot because I watch very little TV. What’s wrong with just having an organic conversation rather than a forced icebreakery thing?

      4. Csethiro Ceredin*

        Yes, I actually enjoy low-stakes debate but I would have avoided this HARD even before I realized it was, in fact, weirdly high-stakes debate.

        It just reeks of “well class, here’s what the discussion point is for today” and… no thanks. And the groupthink judginess is bonkers.

      5. Ballandary Airlines*

        There is no rule that 100% of a lunchtime gathering needs to participate in every discussion.

        Let the people who want to gossip about DAYS OF OUR LIVES do it. Let the people who prefer a more substantive discussion do that. Personally, I love Bob’s thought experiments, but with the caveat that no, there’s no definitive answer, and you can’t ostracize someone for taking a position one way or the other.

    2. ecnaseener*

      Seriously! The point is to have a lighthearted debate, not to pose a statement everyone agrees with and just…have everyone announce their agreement.

      Poor Carrie!

    3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Yeah, this isn’t a “thought experiment” it’s hazing or initiation.
      Confirming who thinks alike, who is willing or not willing to challenge the group-think.
      It’s had the opposite result of the naïve expectation that a thought challenges would create an intellectual salon (thank you Sheldon Cooper).
      Now even if someone wished to take the unpopular opinion, they know they will be ostracized.
      And only OP seems to realize that.

      1. Prospect Gone Bad*

        Also “should someone die or thing happen” is like a 12 year old’s thought exercise. And Shakespeare is such a cliche, my mind goes blank when he’s brought up at this point, and I know I am not a minority here. A thought exercise would actually include new ideas

        1. MCS*

          100% on all your points.

          People who think Shakespeare is the pinnacle of culture! People who think these questions are edgy! People who think these questions have exactly one right answer! I don’t want to throw 12-year-olds under bus because they tend to be passing through a particular stage of development, but yes, that’s all so ridiculous!

          1. MigraineMonth*

            I was once playing This War of Mine (an amazing but heartbreaking game about surviving a war as a civilian) on my tablet, and a couple of kids noticed and wanted to play it too. I told them no, it was a game for adults. They assured me that wouldn’t be a problem since they already knew a lot of curse words.

            Kids’ definitions of adult, edgy things are not the same as an adult’s.

    4. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Right? The second I read the words “thought experiment”, I was bracing myself for what fresh hell might await these coworkers.

      Though I don’t think it’s the case here based on the examples given, I’ll add that a lot of “thought experiment” stuff I’ve encountered veers away from the abstract/theoretical into things that are people’s lived experiences and it can be pretty frustrating and/or upsetting to hear people debate things that might be an abstract exercise to them but incredibly real to you.

      1. Nobby Nobbs*

        Yeah, I’ll cop to occasionally being pretty upset by some people’s answers to the old “is it morally acceptable to steal medicine for a dying loved one” chestnut, but this one was pretty theoretical as far as disturbing thought experiments go.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I read about an experiment where they asked that question and were frustrated by the subjects refusing the premise. The experimenters weren’t sure how to classify “I would negotiate an installment payment plan” or “I would steal it, but leave behind all my money and anonymously send more money every month until it was paid off.”

      2. SoloKid*

        Agreed, when it comes to things like killing or ranking people, let’s leave it out of work.

        I really liked the Mary’s Room example OP gave as one that would be better for the workplace.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Even Mary’s Room seems risky to me. “Does lived experience matter?” could go wrong very quickly.

    5. Totally Minnie*

      We play Would You Rather at my office, but the people who pick the questions are always really careful to avoid sensitive topics like death or sex or politics. It’s goofy stuff like ‘would you rather have this mildly helpful yet mildly inconvenient superpower or this other mildly helpful yet mildly inconvenient superpower?” I think it’s time to skip over any thought experiments related to death, now that OP knows those questions can be harmful to working relationships.

      1. Micah*

        Now I am wildly curious about these mildly helpful/inconvenient superpowers..!
        Is it something like you can heat a cup of coffee in your hands but your feet will be freezing while you do it?

          1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

            This would be an amazing superpower and would at least quadruple the amount of grilled cheese sandwiches I ate. ;)

          2. Ex-prof*

            That would be worthwhile. The proper grilling of a grilled cheese sandwich is quickly becoming a lost art.

        1. Totally Minnie*

          So, like, you have the power of teleportation, but you can only travel to and from set points, or you can fly, but only a certain distance per day.

          1. Micah*

            Ooh great! See, depending on the distance none of those sound “mildly” and not inconvenient! Teleporting from home and work is useful and being able to fly over puddles and trafficked roads is also useful! But choosing between them… hmm… That is the interesting thought experiment, I fully approve of it.

            So much I actually want this to be a weekend thread, just tossing different mild superpowers (mild inconveniences included) in the air and watch people grapple for them.

          2. alienor*

            As a kid whenever I had a flying dream, there was always a catch to it – like I could fly, but only get a few feet off the ground, or I could fly, but I had to flap my arms to stay aloft. I never got to just soar unfettered through the dream-clouds!

          3. Worldwalker*

            Do you get to determine your own teleportation points?

            Like, can you set one to be the lobby of your office? Or are they predetermined, like one is two miles west of Peoria?

        2. Jelizabug*

          As an aside, Brandon Sanderson has written a series for Young Adults based on this premise of mildly helpful/ inconvenient superpowers… such as falling randomly. It’s Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians, and if you’re an audiobook fan, the narrator does a perfect sarcastic teen.

          My current superpower is obtaining random bruises that I can’t account for. Totally unhelpful!

        3. Carlie*

          My son played an RPG once where a power was “any cup you hold will always fill” so you would never be thirsty again, but the catch was that it would only ever fill with your fifth-most favorite nonalcoholic drink.

          1. Jaydee*

            Do different flavors of seltzer count as different drinks? Or is seltzer (any flavor) it’s own category such that my 5th favorite NA drink will be something annoyingly not all-purpose like diet root beer, ginger ale, or cranberry juice?

          2. Worldwalker*

            I started ranking mine, and I think it would be ice tea. I could deal with that. (and for everything else, there are straws so you don’t have to hold the cup)

      2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        This is how we do it, too. They’re always silly. And the answers are anonymous through a program. People can talk about their answers if they want.

      3. Lilac*

        The only one I can remember from a friend was “Would you rather have crab claws for arms or sweat gravy?”

        Because both are unpleasant to contemplate

      4. Emily Byrd Starr*

        Yes, if you must do thought experiments with your co-workers, that’s the way to do it.

    6. Phony Genius*

      Here’s how I’d shut this question down. “Right now, somebody who you’ve never met is contemplating this same question, and will decide to save Shakespeare. You may be the person who they would sacrifice.” And then immediately begin a conversation about the Twilight Zone (as my response is based on an episode).

      1. FrivYeti*

        I disagree strongly, because that reply extremely aggressively calls out people that have picked a different answer than you as being wrong. It’s just the same thing as bullying Carrie, but with an extra step.

      2. Still haven't picked out a username, sorry*

        Honestly, I’d be fine being sacrificed for Shakespeare. Goodness knows I haven’t contributed anything nearly that important to the world in my 43 years here. haha I think it’s probably a good thing I don’t eat lunch with my co-workers (we work remotely) — I’d end up shunned like poor Carrie!

        1. Frickityfrack*

          Ha, I thought the same thing. Like, well if they’re gonna do it, can they at least hurry up so I can miss my afternoon meeting or what?

          My current coworkers would still love me, but apparently OPs would make me a scarlet A if I gave an honest answer to that one. (Now if someone asked me to pick between a random person and Nathaniel Hawthorne, poor old Nate would have to go.)

    7. morethantired*

      Exactly. These questions are meant to be like “is a hot dog a sandwich?” where the stakes are low and everyone can just share their opinion.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        It is. Back before “hot dog” because the standard name, they were called “wienerwurst sandwiches.” Next question?

        1. morethantired*

          But the nature of the roll has changed, and in fact isn’t even standard across regions of the US. This is why it’s a low-stakes question. It depends entirely on how much nuance any given person applies to classification of foods, or if a person thinks foods need to be classified at all. On one extreme, you have the “everything is soup in a bread bowl” folks and, on the other, the “a hot dog is it’s own thing and sandwiches are their own thing.” No one’s right or wrong.

      2. Student*

        I love the Sandwich Alignment Chart. I feel such alignment charts, when available, add a lot of nuance to the resulting water-cooler talk. It opens up the range of discussion a bit more than a dichotomous question. You can goad even the most stoic co-worker into taking a position on sandwich alignment.

        I’m a structural neutral, ingredient rebel in the Sandwich Alignment Chart, in case you were wondering.

      3. Selena's nan*

        or is it rum in the eggnog or brandy??
        Or do peeps need to be absolutely fresh or totally stale !!

    8. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      It’s a mystery to me. ‘ I want to know what you think but not really’. it’s like asking whether Goku or Superman would win and then getting mad

      1. DramaQ*

        Well Superman would win at first but then Goku would vow to get stronger and go train with someone from the Justice League. Probably Batman since he knows all their weaknesses. Then Goku would develop some hyped up power that would allow him to beat Superman. Then he would cheerfully offer to fight him again if Superman gets better.

        Meanwhile Vegeeta fumes in the background about Goku surpassing him yet again and resolves to be stronger than both of them.

        I’ve got a lot of DBZ fans in my family.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Probably, but I think Superman’s “no killing” rule would derail the entire season. What’s the purpose of collecting the Dragon Balls if none of the main characters are dead?

    9. Kel*

      For real. A thought experiment is supposed to generate discussion; if the whole group refuses one side of that discussion, stop doing thought experiments. Ugh.

    10. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

      Exactly. The next time Steve does one of these, my answer would be, “I thought these were thought experiments but apparently we can be exiled over them if we answer wrong, so I’m not participating anymore.”

      1. Nephron*

        Thank you for focusing on the fact that Steve asks this and is heavily involved in the bullying.

        I do not enjoy a game where Steve asks a questions to hear us all agree with him.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Steve sounds insufferable. I wonder how many other coworkers would actually be secretly glad to discuss the best fertiliser for roses, or [Musician]’s comeback tour, or literally anything else.

          1. Ballandary Airlines*

            Steve sounds insufferable

            …in your opinion. Personally, I’d love a lunchtime table to hash out thought experiments once a week.

            1. Expelliarmus*

              Fair enough, but it sounds like the thought experiments come with a heaping side of ostracizing dissenters, so there’s that.

              1. Polly Hedron*

                No, only ostracizing Carrie. I think any other dissenter would have been tolerated. I’d love a lunchtime thought experiment that welcomed a dissenter like Carrie.

        2. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

          I actually didn’t mean it to be pointed specifically at Steve, more as a public demonstration to ruin everyone’s enjoyment the next time it happens, but I think it’s also fair to focus on Steve.

    11. Elitist Semicolon*

      Yeah, I saw “thought experiment” and my first reaction was “Steve is tedious to be around and I too would avoid having lunch with the group.” And I say that as someone who used to be heavily involved in professional ethics, so I’m used to having/leading discussions that don’t always have right or comfortable answers. I would not enjoy spending time with people whose go-to lunchtime conversational strategy is a thought experiment.

      1. Ballandary Airlines*

        I would not enjoy spending time with people whose go-to lunchtime conversational strategy is a thought experiment.

        So…don’t attend? Again, there’s no rule that 100% of people in a canteen need to discuss the same topic.

        1. allathian*

          It’s a small office, about 20 employees, and Carrie’s the only one who’s not regularly eating lunch with the rest of the group. You seem oddly invested in this topic.

        2. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

          “So… don’t attend?”

          That’s what Carrie had been doing and it got her labelled as “chilly” and “off.”

    12. WillowSunstar*

      Yeah, agreed on that one. Save the “thought experiments” for a social media site where people can be anonymous. There’s a reason why many people don’t feel comfortable giving their true opinions in person. Our society is polarized enough.

      1. Worldwalker*

        Avoiding polarized topics won’t end that, however; only getting comfortable with talking with people who have different opinions than you will do that.

        1. coffee*

          Is the workplace really the place for that though?! Look how badly it went in the letter.

          1. WillowSunstar*

            Even in Toastmasters, there are topics people don’t give speeches on. There’s a hood reason why.

    13. Mim*

      OMG yes! Especially if the thought experiment involves death in any way.

      I used to have a co-worker who was one of those people who thought they were deeper than they really were, and would poke at folks all the time about stuff. I don’t think his intention was to cause anger or discomfort, but he had boundary issues which resulted in this stuff occasionally causing anger and/or discomfort.

      One day he had been having one of his poking sessions at/about a co-worker who was vegan. (And literally never brought it up, other than answering questions about food choices when we were ordering something, etc.) Vegan co-worker wasn’t even in the room anymore but boundary-pushing co-worker was still going on and on. He started talking about how, since animals decompose into the ground when they die, and plants grow in the ground, nobody can actually be vegan. I then pointed out to him that by his logic he was a cannibal.

      He shut up and I never heard him bring up the topic again.

      1. TheEnd*

        I had a classmate who was taking his first semester of philosophy and went into a solipsistic “what if, like, everything is just all in my head, maaaan” to the huge annoyance of his study group.
        Then he sat with our group once. The woman next to him started punching his shoulder while chanting, “stop hitting yourself stop hitting yourself stop hitting yourself” and he never brought it up in our presence ever again.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          If you have a way to contact that woman, please let her know this internet stranger thanks her for her good work!

    14. ragazza*

      Right? I hate this kind of “conversation starter.” I always think the person who spearheads this kind of talk isn’t a very good conversationalist, although it’s probably not fair to rush to judgment on that.

    15. Myrin*

      Also, Carrie’s answer (not as “Carrie’s answer” but as in “the answer she gave in this case”) was completely predictable – I couldn’t tell where the letter would be going yet when I read Steve’s question, I knew immediately that somebody was going to choose Shakespeare.

    16. Never The Twain*

      It’s convenient to cast something as a ‘thought experiment’ (i.e. ‘hey guys, it doesn’t really matter, say what you like!’) when the aim (perhaps subconsciously) is to force people to take a side and thus identify whether they are ‘us’ or ‘other’.
      Maybe it is normally innocuous, but I think I’d be steering clear of engaging in these discussions in future.

  4. Alex*

    This is so bizarre! Carrie participated in the discussion and made a coherent argument for her position. Isn’t that the point? I don’t think there is anything particularly weird about her answer! Your coworkers are the ones being weird at this point, not her.

    OP if you have a good amount of social standing with these people, it would go a long way to stick your neck out and tell them they are the ones in the wrong here.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      My experience is that the real point of things like this is to let guys like Steve feel smart and hold court.

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        This. Steve is never going to propose a thought experiment that has any material consequences for himself.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            No, he doesn’t, either because it only matters that it keeps him on top, or because knocking someone else down is actively part of keeping him on top.

            1. Dasein9*

              I’ve known a few folks like this. When pressed, they pretty consistently argue that by expressing the unpopular opinion, their target has forfeited any moral right to sympathy or good treatment.

              It’s just justifying bullying.
              And, as the first commenter noted, contradictory.

              1. Paulina*

                Steve may also be trying to avoid consequences to himself. He started his “thought experiment” and people got uncomfortable with one of the answers. For him, it has to be that the answer (and the person who gave it) were wrong, because the alternative is that he set up a bad discussion topic. And he doesn’t want to stop his self-centred “thought experiment” bits, so clearly the person who gave the troubling answer is what has to go.

      2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Came to support this comment. I feel that if Carrie had said the opposite, he would have guided the group to condemn that. He’s controlling the show. This is his entertainment.

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          I worked with a Steve who really was named Steve. (Given the popularity of the name during the 50’s through the 70’s, chances are that most of us have.)

          1. Chirpy*

            I worked with a Steve who would do the whole “is he actually mad or ‘just violently joking” thing. I’m very glad he’s gone, I could not read him well and it was stressful.

          1. Margaret Cavendish*

            Oh, I’ve met him, and I bet you have too. Not this guy specifically, but I guarantee everyone has a Steve in their life!

            1. MigraineMonth*

              I dated one for so000 much longer than I should have. He also liked playing Devil’s Advocate. After I broke up with him, I apologized to each of my friends for inflicting him on them.

            2. Minimal Pear*

              Mine was named Chris and he was my boss when I volunteered at the library as a teen. No, Chris, I don’t want to talk about the trolley problem while I’m setting up for the teen mini golf activity.

        2. The OG Sleepless*

          No kidding. I’ve worked in offices where having lunch together was the norm, and it drove me insane, but having Mr. Undergrad Smartypants dominating the conversation every day sounds awful. I would avoid them too.

          1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            Yeah, this sounds like a nightmare for me. Nothing against people who like this, but I need a break from people during the day.

        3. Ellis Bell*

          I’m amazed it’s only Carrie. I have to wonder how much she is laughing down her sleeve at this guy.

      3. Richard Hershberger*

        Or perhaps to relive one’s youth. This is essentially a college undergrad bull session.

        1. Elitist Semicolon*

          YES. They’re just one spliff away from someone pulling out a guitar and fumbling their way through Wonderwall.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          These two things are only about a half-sidestep away. Few people are more full of themselves than young adult dudebros.

      4. Anon Y Mouse*

        I have to say I’d be weirdly uncomfortable with this particular question – because I was deeply, nerdily into Renaissance literature when I was young and ended up doing a Master’s in Shakespeare Studies (which has never been of any practical utility, and no relevance to my job). Every time someone goes “Ugh Shakespeare, we should stop torturing kids with it,” I either have to bite my tongue or think of a way to say “Uh, some of us enjoy it, and did even when we were kids?” that doesn’t sound snobby or pretentious.

        Would I value it over a life? Maybe not, but given what a huge part of my life it was, I’d have to think!

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          My bookish fifteen year old will happily go to productions of Shakespeare. Though he prefers the tragedies over the comedies, for the higher mortality rate.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            I have fond memories of learning Romeo & Juliet when I was 14. When reading the first scene, I put so much emphasis on the innuendo that one of my classmates literally fell out of his chair he was laughing so hard. My English teacher, being awesome, declared him a groundling; he had to stay on the floor, but he was allowed to throw things at the actors.

            I think middle/high school is also the last time R&J seemed romantic to me, rather than “that incredibly dumb thing a couple of teens did”.

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              It has been said that your reaction to King Lear tells you if you mental age. If you react with “what horrible kids!” then you are old. If you react what “what an idiot!” you are young. Make of this what you will.

              1. Anon Y Mouse*

                Can it be both? (Them again, I’m middle-aged.)

                Lear is my least favourite play (followed by Hamlet). I always preferred the comedies and problem plays to the tragedies.

            2. Ray Gillette*

              I’ve finally reached the stage of life where when a teenager bemoans having to read R&J because it’s not romantic, I get to say “The relationship lasted three days and six people died. If you think that’s bad, it means you understood the story.”

              1. MigraineMonth*

                More than half of them died thanks to a missed text from Juliet to Romeo (“faking my death, k thx bye”). It shows the importance of checking your messages and if they were received before making major life choices.

            3. Nightengale*

              I have loved Shakespeare since I was a teen. I have read some of the plays for fun, took a class in college, joined a Shakespeare reading group, etc.

              Except for Romeo and Juliet. My impression of the play at 14 in High School was “this is 2 of my classmates with a crush.” I could not see why we had such a cultural approval of their behavior. My impression did not change on reading it again at 21. However by 21, I had discovered the terms “aromantic” and “asexual.” Knowing I was aro/ace goes a long ways towards explaining my initial response to the play. My favorite character in Romeo and Juliet was Benvolio – he seemed like the only sensible one.

              1. Modesty Poncho*

                My favorite take on Romeo and Juliet is that it’s a subversion of some of the tropes of its time. There would have been dozens of plays where two star-crossed lovers defied and united their families and everyone lived happily ever after, and until Tybalt dies in act 3 there’s no real sign that this is going to be any different. Then everything starts falling apart and the deconstruction starts. This theory holds that the inclusion of the introductory monologue (Two households both alike in dignity/ in fair Verona where we lay our scene) is to weed out anyone who was gonna get mad about this turning into a tragedy.

                1. Anon Y Mouse*

                  Absolutely, and that’s how it was taught to us at school…

                  Have you seen the girl who does videos as side characters? She does one as Rosaline that’s hilarious (and also makes some pretty good points!)

          2. Ray Gillette*

            The primary difference between Shakespeare’s comedies and tragedies is that the tragedies are funnier ;)

        2. Expelliarmus*

          Also, Shakespeare has inspired so many MODERN works too, even if one isn’t really interested in the original plays. 10 Things I Hate About You! Shakespeare in Love! She’s the Man! Any romantic work about a lead pair from feuding families! His works may be a huge part of someone’s life even if they don’t think about Shakespeare like you do.

        3. Worldwalker*

          There are 8 billion people on Earth. In ~100 years, they’ll all be dead. But people will still be reading, watching, and performing Shakespeare’s plays.

        4. Lilac*

          My high school best friend and I got kicked out of the high school library at lunch time one day because we were reading out Romeo and Juliet too loudly for fun. I know Shakespeare’s not for everyone but I’ve had some great times.

          1. Lilac*

            (Well, adding that I mean that Shakespeare is for everyone, but many people don’t enjoy it).

      5. Ellis Bell*

        Yeah I was convinced the letter was going to complain about Steve or say his thought experiments were getting annoying, because surely no one could complain about someone taking his questions at face value! It sounds like people are tolerant enough to take all of his conversation with the benefit of the doubt, but not the person with the least social capital.

      6. I should be working*

        As soon as I read “thought experiment” I cringed.
        thank you for articulating why this happened!

      7. NoOneWillSeeThisComment*

        OMG this! I thought the idea of Steve posing these would put me off lunch quick…

    2. Bagpuss*

      Yes, what’s the point of having a discussion if people don’t (or can’t) express differing views?

      I think it’s appropriate if it comes up to make that point and that Carrie was participating in a game which Steve started, she didn’t bring the question up and it isn’t weird or ‘off’ for her to have taken at face value that it was a genuine opening for discussion, and not a trick question with only one acceptable answer.

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        So, I think Carrie did make one mistake, based on how the LW described it — if people were talking about it in a joking manner, I wouldn’t advise turning it serious like she did. Especially as someone who didn’t know the rest of the group as well, I think hanging back and reading the room more would have been wiser.

        That said, none of this justifies giving her the cut direct and that sort of thing.

        1. Fluffy Fish*

          Yeah that’s not fair to Carrie. She did nothing wrong and made no mistake. She didn’t need to read the room.

          A question was asked and she answered. Her colleagues are jerks.

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            Actually, I think that reading the room is an important part of interacting with other people in general!

            My reading of it is that she caused mood whiplash (going from jokey to deadly serious) — declaring for Team Shakespeare in the same jokey tone probably would have come off better.

            I know the wording in the letter might just be the LW paraphrasing Carrie and not her actual words, but the wording does read to me as kind of…smugly superior? That said, the other side (Shakespeare is torture lol lmao lol) exemplifies a sort of casual anti-intellectualism that I find really annoying, so I’m not particularly liking anyone here.

            Tl;dr: unforced error on Carrie’s part, does not justify weird bullying though.

        2. Caroline*

          I agree with you, and am surprised I had to scroll so far to find this perspective. It wasn’t what Carrie said, it was how she said it. She could have taken the other view, but if she delivered it with the same matter-of-fact tone and had a serious justification for it, they still would have thought she was weird in the context of an otherwise lighthearted and casual conversation where people are giving goofy answers. It’s not fair and it absolutely doesn’t justify their treatment of her. But this was about Carrie not fitting in with the vibe, not about her answer. I feel for her, as I’ve been the Carrie many times!

          1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

            Nah, she was told it was a thought experiment, she answered in that style. People should not have to modify their voice and tone in order to match some completely arbitrary, invented social norm in order to avoid censure.

            Carrie did nothing wrong. At all. “Not fitting in” isn’t a mistake. She was just existing in peace. Steve forced his game on her then didn’t like the way she engaged with it.

        3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          Basically Carrie’s only “crime” is a failure to read the room and keep it light-hearted. She was being a bit awkward is all.
          But you can tell why she prefers to keep to herself. So would I if the conversation in the lunch room was dominated by bullies like Steve.

        4. Anon Y Mouse*

          Not everyone _can_ “read the room” – it’s not a universal skill – and if Carrie doesn’t have a public-facing job, which it sounds like she doesn’t, it may not be one of the strengths she was hired for. But inadvertently dampening the mood (one time!) shouldn’t qualify one for ostracism.

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            I agree with that last sentence! But there are *lots* of social skills that aren’t universal, and when people lack some of those skills, it can make them less pleasant to be around.

    3. HotSauce*

      So all these people are actually interested in is group think & any outlier should be cast out? What a miserable sounding workplace.

    4. Portia*

      Carrie may not even have been expressing her own opinion (though if she was, fair enough). One of the points of these silly experiments is to defend positions one doesn’t hold personally.

      It appears some people were looking for a reason they could point to that Carrie is Not One of Us and think they’ve found it.

      1. Cat Tree*

        I’ll go out on a limb and speculate that Steve himself has played the role of “Devil’s Advocate” on numerous occasions.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I am 1000% sure of this, and also that he told people who got upset at his Devil’s Advocate positions that they were being too sensitive.

      2. Bilateralrope*

        Also a good point. She took the position that nobody else was taking. That would have made the discussion more interesting.

        But instead we see that they preferred to shun her than to think about their position.

    5. Irish Teacher*

      Heck, I’ve done these kind of thought experiments with my students and my 12-15 year old students have responded more maturely to people disagreeing with them than Steve did. Now, obviously, I do steer the discussion off anything getting too heated, but…they have discussed more controversial issues than this without ostracising anybody with a minority opinion.

      And yeah, she gave one of the two expected answers. The reason she gave is exactly why literature is placed against a human life. If Steve thinks one answer is so obviously right, how is it even a thought experiment?

  5. Cat's Paw for Cats*

    I’m underwhelmed with the callousness of Carrie’s judgy coworkers and would not hesitate to call out their rude, bullying, gossipy behavior if I were their manager.

    1. Jesshereforthecomments*

      Agreed. I also am so tired of this trope that non-lunch-joiners are somehow ruder than others. LW says that Carrie has a “chilly personality” but the only examples given are that while Carrie is “not rude or outright unfriendly,” she, “keeps to herself for the most part if something isn’t work-related.” And LW or others call her “off.” The horror!

      Maybe Carrie is an introvert and needs to recharge during lunch. Maybe Carrie has social anxiety. Maybe Carrie needs some me time. Maybe Carrie is neurodivergent. And/or maybe Carrie can tell what a bunch of judgy, emotionally unintelligent people she works with and needs to keep her distance. Sheesh!

      1. RWM*

        Yeah I had a similar reaction; is she chilly or is she politely avoiding a bunch of obnoxious dudes?

        1. Alternative Person*

          Seriously, I’m already pulled in enough directions most days, let me have my lunch in peace.

  6. RB*

    This sounds like a nightmare place to work. Team Carrie all the way. I’m glad she has some healthy boundaries!

  7. Twill*

    This is ridiculous on several levels. And honestly Steve is the one who started it with his ‘hypothetical’ questions to which there is apparently only one correct answer. But this could be my already existent bias against these type of questions anyway. They are just absurd. I get the purpose behind them. But in what reality are you ever going to be between the destruction of Shakespeare’s work and someone dropping dead? And these people are cold-shouldering this woman because they don’t like her answer to an absurd (stupid) question. Yeah – I do not missing working in office – At All.

    1. Heidi*

      I always thought this particular thought experiment was not great. There are people putting on Shakespeare’s plays all the time – they could just dictate their parts and reassemble all the plays. Or we could just copy the last copy. Or are we in some sort of post-apocalyptic universe where there’s no technology and everyone who has ever put on one of his plays is dead?

      1. Micah*

        Yup. At long as people’s memories aren’t erased, destroying the physical copies won’t be a problem for long.

        1. Ex-prof*

          Especially as the plays themselves existed for donkeys’ years before they were written down.

          1. Sharpie*

            Several of them were in print before Shakespeare died, though the First Folio was printed seven years after his death and was the first time in print for a number of his plays.

            I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of them could be reconstructed in full from the memory of all the people who have performed them over the years… Not to mention all the recordings we have of various performances of them.

        2. Ellis Bell*

          I think the whole “Shakespeare’s plays were pieced together from memories and folios anyway” is the whole reason why people love it as a trick question, I mean.. a thought experiment. People will respond to the problem as it’s phrased, as though the destruction of the physical copies is the same as a mass memory wipe. Then, when the time is right, the Steve in the room who pitched the question as though physical copies matter, then comes out with a “Well, actually” about how the plays have survived not being written down already. Fun!

      2. Victoria Everglot*

        I know there’s at least one play (Hamlet) where we have the copy we do precisely because one of his actors remembered his lines and wrote them down. So unless the thought experiment requires Shakespeare to be completely removed from the brains of all humans who have ever read or heard a line, it’s just stupid.

        1. Worldwalker*

          I’d assumed that was the case — that Shakespeare had become a wheelwright instead of a playwright or something.

      3. Modesty Poncho*

        Oh huh I took it as if the plays had never existed, wiping them from the timeline entirely.

        I’m not against the thought experiment talk the way some others here are but the entire point is to have a low-stakes debate about relative merit. This shunning is so bizarre. It almost can’t have been caused by the specific question asked, as much as a preexisting dislike for Carrie.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I’d be much more interested in a discussion of what would/wouldn’t change in our world if they were wiped from the timeline. Would we have chosen Marlo as the greatest playwriter in Western cannon? Would someone else have ended up writing them, perhaps in a different form, since they’re expressions of fundamental truths about human nature? Would the world be a better place without Merchant of Venice, Othello and Taming of the Shrew?

          So much more interesting than trying to rank the value of human life against human creation.

          1. Modesty Poncho*

            Absolutely! And the trickle-down effect of stories largely or loosely based on plays…without Hamlet we wouldn’t have the same Lion King, 10 Things I Hate About You is Taming of the Shrew, no West Side Story or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead… so many avenues of discussion

      4. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Yeah, I’m assuming it’s a “Yesterday” situation where the entire canon ceases ever to have existed. Which means the lasting phrases would no longer exist in the English language, let alone the cultural references.

        1. Paulina*

          Now that would be an interesting experiment — could these coworkers go through a week without anything (phrases, words, stories) that referenced something Shakespearean in some way?

      5. Reed Weird*

        Semi-related, there’s actually a play with a similar premise called “Mr Burns: A Post Electric Play”. It’s set at 3 different points in time after a nuclear apocalypse, and shows the evolution of storytelling as survivors pass down the story of the Simpsons episode “Cape Feare”. By 75 years in the future, it’s mutated into a Greek tragedy performed with all the gravitas of a Shakespeare adaptation.

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I am entirely too literal for this kind of conversation because I would immediately be asking OK which one person and do I have to do the killing or will it happen automatically and we’ll never know who it was. And then I’d point out how many people have died since the conversation started.

    3. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

      What Steve and the rest of this Stepford Wives group doesn’t get is that the answer Carrie gave is actually the choice that society makes, over and over again, not the choice that the rest of them supposedly make.

      As a society we have chosen to fund libraries, to fund art museums, to create parks, and, yes, to put on Shakespeare. These resources could instead be spent on feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, etc. Because we don’t allocate all our resources to the second set of categories, people do in fact die when otherwise they might live longer. But society has judged that the collective benefits of funding the arts are important enough that we as a society are willing to let people die to get those benefits.

      There is room for a very robust argument as to what society’s choices should be. But to sanctimoniously denounce one choice while failing to do anything to stop that choice from being implemented (no doubt to the benefit of this mob) is not only bullying, it is rank hypocrisy.

      1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

        Depending on what country you’re in, usually underfunding healthcare etc goes hand in hand with underfunding the arts. And properly funding healthcare, a welfare system etc goes hand in hand with properly resourcing the arts.

        It makes no sense to pitch arts funding against social policy support. The reason poverty exists and ignores is because of political choices and wealth inequality, not because all the money was spent on producing Shakespeare plays.

      2. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

        This is a wild take and sounds like a really bad faith argument. The choices are not between “fund the arts” (which, by the way, are not robustly funded) and “support humans to live decently”. Both of those things are allocated very few resources.

        I mean, we also fund literal worldwide war – that’s far more active in killing humans than some token funding for the arts. Seriously, you should read a federal budget bill some time. The humanities are not taking food out of children’s mouths.

        1. alienor*

          I was gonna say, how many lavish Shakespeare productions would it take to equal the budget for one fighter jet? I’m guessing a lot.

        2. MissElizaTudor*

          I don’t think that was the argument, that it’s bad to spend money on the arts. That’s a really bad faith interpretation.

          It sounds more like a point about opportunity cost, and is actually an interesting point, especially because a lot of the time we don’t really think about opportunity cost.

          Yes, we can fund both things, but given that the money spent is related to real resources being used in pursuit of art vs. healthcare, it is the case that there’s something of a tradeoff between the two. For example, money spent on a play is not money being sent to organizations that buy malaria nets or give vaccines to impoverished people, so the choice to do one can be seen as a choice not to do the other.

          There’s many other things to take money from first (military and social security for well-off older people are big ones in the US), but that doesn’t erase the tradeoff.

      3. Emmy Noether*

        That’s an interesting angle, but it’s much more complex than that. Art vs. life is a false dichotomy, because it would be much more effective to pull resources from a whole very long list of other things before we even got to pulling them from the arts, if the main goal was preserving lives.

      4. MissElizaTudor*

        A+ comment. I doubt Steve and the gang forgo all spending on entertainment to give to organizations that help save lives, so they’re living the choice that Carrie discussed.

  8. Bored Lawyer*

    No wonder Carrie doesn’t like spending time with her co-workers, who seem to have the intellectual depth of goldfish.

      1. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

        I’ve used “the depth of a cookie sheet” to describe people like this.

    1. Observer*

      I was thinking about that. But the real problem is not their intellectual depth, but their lack of decency.

      1. Good Enough For Government Work*

        Per QI, goldfish actually have surprisingly good memories! The four seconds thing is incorrect.

        1. Worldwalker*

          I know for a fact that their memories are at least two weeks.

          I trained a goldfish to come to the end of the tank when I tapped on the rim — it’s easy, just drop in the food and tap. He learned it in a few days; animals are smart about food! Then I stopped taping for a couple of weeks and just fed him normally. Two weeks later, I tapped, and he came right over glupping at the surface for his dinner.

          Yeah, goldfish remember the important things!

    2. Generic Mid-Career HR Person*

      I thought about making the same comment. It’s a small window into Carrie’s world.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Yeah, impossible to understand why she only socialises on special occasions.

        Some of need our break time to be an actual break.

    3. Susan Trels*

      Yeah! My theory is Carrie doesn’t care much what her coworkers think and was just messing with them to watch everyone freak out.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        When people are that cold to her you can quite well understand why she prefers reading Shakespeare to hanging out with her colleagues

  9. Falling Diphthong*

    Alison is dead on that this was a convenient opening for the office group of social primates to put someone firmly in the bottom tier. Which is great because if they put someone else in that spot then that means they are not down there themselves.

    We are supposed to be trying to function above that baseline, and OP I do think you have standing to issue a very calm, dispassionate “Guys, it was a thought experiment. It’s weird how you have latched onto it this way.”

    Right now the people asserting their “I’m not Carrie” group status imagine everyone must feel that way, and this will puncture that. And quite possibly there are other people reasoning like OP but unwilling to be the first to speak up. (And some people might have nodded along on day one but are now like “guys it’s day eleven wtf?”)

    Something that I read that really resonated re bullying is that it’s mostly people in the middle of the hierarchy. People on top have the confidence of people on top. (Some) people in the middle fear sliding down to that lower level unless they can make sure to stick someone else in there first.

    1. GreyjoyGardens*

      I was thinking of the poor LW from this morning’s roundup whose boss forbade her lunch breaks and ordered food for everyone in the office except her! And nobody spoke up. In that case it was a boss, but still, I think that a lot of times, people won’t speak up out of fear that they might be next, especially if they don’t really like the victim that much OR don’t know them well.

      I’m also reminded of the person who wrote in saying that their assistant (or someone else really junior) was targeted for a cruel Halloween prank where the office Regina George dressed as assistant to mock her. LW said they had to “use up capital” to try and address the bullying, and that is not something you should have to burn capital for!

      In toxic, abusive environments, the point is not to outrun the bear, but to not be the slowest person in the group. Nobody dares point out that there shouldn’t be a bear chasing them in the first place! This office sounds toxic. LW, I hope you can speak up for Carrie, without being thrown under the bus yourself. I also hope your boss, HR, whoever is in charge, can put a stop to this. Poor Carrie. I think I might have answered the same (I have that sense of humor) and could see myself in her position. Even if you do not really care to make friends at work, it’s so miserable to have people outright hate and exclude you.

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          ROFL! Good one! (They should exeunt and say “hey Smokey, that guy Steve over there sure looks a tasty morsel!”)

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          I think leaving the bear behind in the office might be for the best all around. Steve will not get the literary reference and thus be defenseless.

  10. Doofus*

    In today’s story we learned: don’t ask questions you don’t want to hear the answer to.

    1. Nobby Nobbs*

      It’s not like this is school and the question was being posed by a teacher for debate. A coworker willingly placed this mine on the lunch table!

    2. Anon Y Mouse*

      I think it was more “don’t answer questions under the mistaken assumption that people wanted to hear the answer…”

      Poor Carrie.

  11. Emily*

    OP, your instincts here are all correct, but you’re probably thinking about this more than Carrie is. All you have to do is what you’re already doing, which is be normal to Carrie and don’t encourage the gossiping. But also, are these still people *you* want to hang out with? Because they sound kind of awful.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I think we have all learned the reason Carrie doesn’t socialize with her coworkers that much. And the issue isn’t Carrie.

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          Yes, I think there are very good reasons Carrie keeps herself to herself, and it’s not out of a character flaw on her part. These people sound like a bunch of middle schoolers.

    1. Observer*

      but you’re probably thinking about this more than Carrie is.

      That’s almost certainly not the case. Even introverts who are not especially into the workmates are hurt when people go out of their way to explicitly shun them.

      People are refusing to talk to her. And they are being flat out rude when they do need to talk to her! How could she NOT see it and feel it?! She is actually a human being, not a robot. Please do NOT minimize this by claiming that “she probably is not thinking about it.” She can’t help but think about it, because she has to think about he day to day interactions with coworkers.

      1. Need More Coffee to be Clever*

        This is what I keep thinking about , too.

        I am a pretty introverted person and always prefer to eat lunch by myself as it gives me a built in spot during the day to recharge. But if I went out on a limb to sit and engage with people one day and received this kind of treatment in response, it would certainly be the last time.

        1. Anon Y Mouse*

          Yep. I once posted on an open thread to say “how can I politely avoid my perfectly nice but chatty colleague when I’m not feeling up to socialising?” and I still wouldn’t want to be thinking that nobody would want to speak to me, ever.

      2. fed up with anecdote cited as data*

        “Please do NOT minimize this by claiming that “she probably is not thinking about it.”

        Yeah, except no one said that. Also, “you’re probably thinking about this more than Carrie is” isn’t at all the same as “Please do NOT minimize this by claiming that ‘she probably is not thinking about it.’” Not at all the same.

        Besides, I cannot help but point out that this whole thread is a prime example of what occurs commonly, and unfortunately, in this very forum: having a different take on something than most (e.g., Emily’s comment on this OP’s situation) and getting piled on for it. Are differences of opinions not allowed here without being indignantly corrected? I even wonder if this comment will get posted.

        1. Observer*

          Indignant disagreement is not the problem that Carrie has. The problem that Carrie has is that she’s being seriously bullied.

          Your distinction between what the post said and my response is pretty meaningless. But, regardless, claiming that Carrie is probably not thinking about it much or thinking about it less than the OP who is NOT the victim is absolutely minimizing the situation.

          And I think that it’s interesting that you equate active bullying with calling out someone who minimizes said bullying.

        2. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

          No one was piled on that I can see? If you have a different take, other people may then explain why they disagree with you. If lots of people disagree with you, it may feel like a “pile on” but if they’re not being obnoxious or personal about it then… lots of people are allowed to disagree with you!

          That’s not what happened to Carrie at all. If everyone disagreed with her answer and told her so, that’s one thing. But they’re refusing to work with her professionally and making nasty comments about her to each other. Totally, totally different.

    2. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

      This kind of shenanigans is probably why Carrie isn’t overly social in the first place.

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        I’d be interested in OP chiming in on this aspect – how do these people act in general?

        I’m not one for participating in social things like lunches, etc, much like Carrie. I have learned over the years that many of my coworkers are frankly not nice. Talk behind peoples back, make questionable statements (racist, transphobic, sexist etc etc), be rude to people they dont like.

        I’m here to work, not spend time with people who never out grew middle school.

        Poor Carrie.

        1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          I’m pretty sure that if everyone is able to have lunch together it’s because there’s a hive mind in place.

      2. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

        Yeah, I feel like Carrie knows she doesn’t fit in with these adolescents in adult bodies, and normally doesn’t find it worth the effort to try to fit her square peg in a round hole. And the one time she does, she gets immature mean girl treatment, proving her her hesitancy to engage 100% correct.

        OP, your lunch group sounds exhausting and Steve comes off like a real tool.

    3. Office Plant Queen*

      I’m an introvert who mostly keeps to myself at work. I’m not sure that I’d say anything if people started treating me like this, but I would feel awful and dread going into work. Might even start looking for a new job even if it stopped, because I wouldn’t want to spend time with people who hated me even if they stopped being openly hostile!

      1. Ex-prof*

        I’m an introvert, and once left a teaching position after someone told me that all the other teachers talking about my clothes. Not in a good way.

        (Not sure why they told me this, but perhaps they thought I wanted to amend the situation, sartorially speaking.)

        1. Becca*

          I’m glad that you chose to amend the situation of your employment instead, those do not sound like good colleagues.

    4. anxiety sucks*

      Not necessarily. I used to be quiet and non-social at work, which I know gets read as “aloof”, but it was due to deep social anxiety. If I’d joined a team lunch, joined the conversation with a comment that was received poorly, and subsequently got shut out – trust me, I’d have noticed. I’d have dwelled on it. Beaten myself up for it. Felt like a failure, like my weirdness had been proven and I was right that no one liked me. And *no one would have know I felt like that*. I wouldn’t have shown it, any more than I’d shown my anxiety or loneliness.

      Why wasn’t “talk to Carrie” or “make an effort to be friendly to Carrie” part of the advice? That might not change the coworkers’ behavior, but it would be good for Carrie to know she’s not hated by everyone!

      1. WillowSunstar*

        I’m introverted and nerdy myself. When I was younger, this really bit me in the you-know-where for jobs. But also grew up being bullied in school for being nerdy, so it’s not like I’ve had a high degree of trust for my fellow humans.

        Since those days, I have at least learned how to pretend to be “on” when needed. But that does get exhausting.

      2. Myrin*

        “Why wasn’t “talk to Carrie” or “make an effort to be friendly to Carrie” part of the advice?”
        I’d imagine because OP said she’s continued treating Carrie the same way she did before. That’s not exactly the same as “make an effort to be friendly to Carrie” but definitely goes in the same direction.

        1. Polly Hedron*

          Alison also said “I hope you’ll make a point of being warm toward her yourself.”

    5. Lavender*

      I wouldn’t assume that OP is thinking about this more than Carrie is. Some people prefer to keep to themselves, but that doesn’t mean they don’t notice or care when people treat them unkindly. Something like this happened to me at work once, and I *definitely* noticed.

      And even if Carrie is unbothered by the whole thing, it’s still worth speaking up IMO. Freezing out a coworker over something low-stakes like this is never okay, and letting it slide sets a potentially harmful precedent.

    6. Ex-prof*

      When I saw the words “thought experiment” I was actually expecting something worse. In terms of the original question, not in terms of LW’s colleagues bullying behavior.

      Because some pretty awful stuff has been dropped into the public dialogue lately– possibly by Steve– and then defended as “a thought experiment”.

  12. Office Lobster DJ*

    In addition to everything else being said, I don’t like the sound of this Steve. Creating the situation and letting it turn into a “gotcha!,” appearing to take Carrie’s response in good humor, then going out of his way to “express relief” to the group when she didn’t return? Keep an eye out for him, OP.

    1. Snoozing not schmoozing*

      It doesn’t sound like it was a “gotcha” aimed at Carrie, since Steve had brought up these types of questions before as lunchtime chatter. It was the other coworkers who devolved into middle school mean kids.

  13. Clobberin' Time*

    Are your co-workers all in middle school? Steve, the popular kid, and his friends manufactured a reason to gang up on the outsider they already didn’t like much, and now they’re bonding over being catty about her.

    1. 2 Cents*

      I’d be Carrie because these people sound like the classmates I avoided in middle and high school who thought I was weird because I dared to think before I spoke. I’d also be job hunting.

      1. Observer*

        I’d also be job hunting

        Yup. I hope that she is.

        OP, if you really can’t approach the owners and your push back doesn’t help, I’d be job searching, too. Because you don’t really want to spend so much of your time with such awful people.

      2. GreyjoyGardens*

        Hard same! These people sound awful. Poor Carrie! I really feel for her. I’m an introvert, and I am sufficiently misanthropic that I might have answered the same. But even if you’re not looking to make friends at work, it does hurt to be excluded and bullied.

        I hope Steve steps in a giant pile of cat barf first thing in the morning, with his bare feet.

        1. Sparkles McFadden*

          Not only that, but the idea behind thought experiments is to trigger a debate. If everyone just agrees on the “answer” then it’s pointless to bother, so Carrie may have taken the position she did to spur that debate.

          The whole “we all eat lunch together…except for Carrie” seems cliquish and odd regardless, and this sounds like an escalation of a dynamic that was already in play.

          Be on Team Carrie, LW!

    2. Don't Be Longsuffering*

      Carrie may keep her distance because she’s learned how this crowd operates. She may have answered as she did as a sort of f you, knowing it would effectively end the discussion.

  14. learnedthehardway*

    Your colleagues clearly don’t have the intellectual capacity to have the discussions they are having. I mean, it’s THOUGHT EXPERIMENT – not an actual decision. The fact that they can’t a) understand that, or b) realize that actual decisions are very different from hypothetical decisions is prima facie evidence for the fact that they shouldn’t be having conversations they can’t handle.

    Please stick up for your rational, sane colleague, who took the thought experiment at face value, which was what she was SUPPOSED to do.

    Also, I deeply distrust people who can’t respect other people’s decisions on hypothetical situations like this. Give them the trolley problem (which this “thought experiment” is a variation of), and a real situation. Guaranteed, they will do something different in reality than they would like to think they would do. ie. your colleagues have an unwarrantedly good opinion of themselves.

    1. El l*

      OP’s coworkers are not mature enough to be adults about human relations…much less have the mature “thought experiments” conversations.

      This is why we can’t have nice things.

    2. Observer*

      Please stick up for your rational, sane colleague, who took the thought experiment at face value, which was what she was SUPPOSED to do.

      Yes. And the issue here is not whether or not you agree with her opinion. It’s that it’s an OPINION on a *theoretical* situation that CANNOT even happen! (Unlike the trolley problem, which actually can happen in real life, albeit probably not with actual trolleys.) And she wasn’t even the one who brought it up – in a situation where the person asking *claimed* to just want to debate interesting ideas.

      By the way, as someone else noted, keep an eye out for Steve.

    3. JustaTech*

      During an ethics class in grad school the professor led a discussion about how decisions are made to allocate health care funding, knowing that there isn’t enough money to pay for everything, and that some of these things are literally life-saving treatments.
      We talked about the greatest value per dollar and things like that and everyone was *clearly* uncomfortable with the whole discussion because, yo, no one wants to think about cutting off one person’s dialysis to pay for NICU time. It was very clear that we were all taking this very seriously and also that this was strictly hypothetical because none of us were in a position to actually implement any of this.

      One of my classmates became furious that the group chose to not allocate all the funds to dialysis, but to spread the money around to other treatment programs. Like so furious that she got up and moved to the other side of the lecture hall and sat glaring at us with her arms folded for the rest of the class, refusing to participate. When the professor asked her about it she said we were all terrible people. She didn’t speak to anyone for the rest of the day and skipped the next morning (which was a big deal because it was a ‘working professionals’ program so this was the one time in a year that we would be physically together).

      It seems like everyone at the office has decided to take this “you are terrible” position, which is just beyond weird.

  15. Observer*

    I think that you should absolutely say something when it comes up at lunch. On top of everything else that’s wrong with it, why on earth is everyone so obsessed with this?! I mean, ok, it was weird. But to bring it up every day? No, something else is going on. I’m curious if it’s always a different person, or it’s one or two people who are driving this? But in any, as I said, you should point out that what’s REALLY off is the fact that this was one conversation that they keep on coming back to again and again as though nothing else in the world was happening.

    But also, when people start trashing her in general, you should push back. No one needs to be best buds with her. But, as others have pointed out, this is straight up bullying.

    I also think you need to re-think your hesitation go to the Bosses. I’m really wondering about your read on them because it seems to be based primarily on the fact that they are in their 40s, and not young, with a dash of not recognizing just how serious of a problem this is. Having said that if you really think about them and their attitudes, if you still conclude that they are not going to handle this well, you should still continue to push back with rest of the staff.

    Because I don’t know whether Carrie is off or not. But your workplace culture is VERY off.

    1. Mom2ASD*

      Agreeing – this is almost certainly the coworkers deciding that there is a “legitimate” reason for why they already didn’t like Carrie, because she’s introverted. She’s different, and different is evil, doncha know?

      I bet this group would be a nightmare for anyone neurodivergent to work with. I can just imagine how they would treat someone on the spectrum.

  16. Lavender*

    I’m a Shakespeare historian, so now I’m wondering how my own colleagues would answer this question!

  17. Honest Puck*

    As a Shakespeare major in college and someone who actually enjoys (most of) his works, and knows the impact his writing has had on language and culture around the world, I’m with Carrie: I’d save Shakespeare’s works at the expense of one life.

    But I think the coworkers are taking it way too far because they don’t like Carrie. Maybe she was a bit too serious in what was meant to be a playful discussion but I can’t imagine that everyone in the group has all agreed on one side of these thought discussions, if they come with some frequency at lunch. They’re just plain bullying and I would point out “Well Bob, didn’t you have a different opinion than everyone else during this other discussion three weeks ago?” Just because someone doesn’t go with the majority should not be a reason to be cold to them.

  18. Tjs*

    Carrie is not “off.” She’s an introvert who would rather read Shakespeare than talk to other people. I say this as an introvert myself, who would rather read Shakespeare and eat lunch alone at my desk than hang out with a bunch of extroverts who think introverts are “off.”

    1. Ex-prof*

      Yeah, I get what you’re coming from. Shakespeare has never been deliberately cruel to me. He’s never talked badly about my clothes, my hair, my mannerisms, my lawn. He’s never sought out ways to deprive me of life’s little enjoyments. We can stay on topic, Bill and I.

    2. Boof*

      The group really needs ti move on and treat carrie ok because i agree it was all hypothetical/ shouldn’t be taken seriously. That being said i am on team “will be disturbed at the idea of anyone okaying murder/bodily harm” in any context that isn’t clearly 100% joke / fiction (like, a horror movie is fun for me because it is fake violence; news, threats, or even hypothetical scenarios where the ends justify the means that seem like a serious answer… no)
      But like i said, even if i would have been taken aback by carrie’s comment i like to think i’d just move on and avoid morbid “thought experiments “ around her!

    3. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      She might be, but I’m not sure we even know that. I don’t think her answer, or the fact she personally prefers to have some alone time at lunch, tells us anything much about her.

  19. Spicy Tuna*

    I worked in a place where I was the “odd man out” once… most people treated me like the OP’s coworkers are treating Carrie and honestly, I didn’t really care. I knew the job wasn’t long term and I just wanted to do my work and leave.

    The only time things escalated were a) one woman complained to my boss that she didn’t like the way I left paperwork on her desk; and b) another woman complained about my attire on casual Friday (knee length denim culottes). In both instances, management had my back.

    I think it’s worthwhile for the OP to say something once about the Carrie situation (maybe turn it into a “thought experiment”) but it also doesn’t sound like Carrie really wants a more friendly relationship from co-workers

    1. Daisy-dog*

      Thought experiment: Would you rather work to accomplish a common goal with someone that you disagree with or act like a child?

    2. Honest Puck*

      Well now I’m dying to know, how do you leave paperwork differently on someone’s desk that they can complain about it?

        1. Apostrophina*

          Now that most of my work is digital, I’d actually forgotten this was a big pet peeve of mine! I think all I did about it was put a little Post-It sign on my desk asking people to please not do that, though.

      1. Spicy Tuna*

        She thought I did it “aggressively”. After that complaint, I went out of my way to gently place the papers in the corner of her desk and make sure everything was lined up nice and neat!

  20. CB212*

    I just caught the detail on a second read-through that this has been going on for a MONTH. Like, not ~three subsequent lunches where someone brought it up – more like twenty lunches?! Several weekends have passed and it’s still being rehashed daily?

    Ganging up on one colleague has become the hot summer office activity. That’s awful.

    1. GreyjoyGardens*

      A month! Carrie is really living rent-free in everyone’s head! Don’t these people have work to do? (Only partly kidding.)

  21. Doctor Fun*

    Straight up, this kind of bullying is why I’m so glad I converted to fully remote back in 2016. I was a Carrie in an office where the “popular kids” commandeered a lunch table in the break room every day at the same time and made a huge, annoying spectacle of themselves, and yes, they bullied everyone who they wouldn’t allow to sit with them. Actually hearing a woman in her thirties shriek “YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US!!” at a relatively new hire was just… the cherry on top of the “I absolutely hate these jerks” cake.

    There’s nothing “off” about Carrie, but there’s a whole lot “off” about a group of full adults behaving like they’re still in middle school during lunch at the dang office. Working there sounds like a little slice of hell.

  22. Daisy-dog*

    What you take to the bosses: “[team members] have been ignoring Carrie and talking bad about her in the conference room. This is causing issues X and Y.” Then the bosses can go to the team members to tell them not to do that. Then the team members can be like, “Bu-bu-but ~thought experiment~.” That makes them look childish and gossipy, not you. Keep it business-related on your side.

    1. fed up with anecdote cited as data*

      Shouldn’t OP ask Carrie’s permission first? Because what if Carrie doesn’t want OP or anyone else to mention it to the bosses? What if Carrie wants to handle this her own way?

      I feel like Carrie is actually invisible to the commentariat here. Weird.

      1. HonorBox*

        Maybe. I can see how OP talking to Carrie might be helpful, both in a “getting her permission to escalate this” way and to show Carrie that there is an adult who is working alongside.

        That said, if there are specific ways that OP can cite to the bosses that the way Carrie is being treated is impacting the business and functions of business, they might not need to get Carrie’s sign off. If, for instance, they can mention that people aren’t speaking directly to Carrie and that’s causing complications, delays, etc. with work getting done, I think it is definitely something that Carrie doesn’t need to sign off on specifically.

      2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        OP works there too, and is affected by this too. They have standing to say something.

      3. Daisy-dog*

        OP probably should talk to Carrie first if she is going to report it as bullying first, and a business interruption second. But if OP decides to focus on the business interruption piece only, then Carrie may not need to be involved. However, if OP thinks that the bosses will first go to her or set up a meeting with all involved or whatever, consider asking Carrie first.

        It’s a tricky path to go down and definitely dependent on OP knowing their company. I definitely wanted to present a way that OP won’t look childish or gossipy – in some companies anyway!

  23. ThisIsNotADuplicateComment*

    Nothing wrecks philosophy like fake philosophers. Tell your co-workers to knock it off and stop being bullies and tell Steve it’s time to move on from his ego-stroking lunch time “discussions” until people are mature enough to handle them.

  24. RussianInTexas*

    I don’t understand why Steve starts these discussions anyway, at work. Do it with your drunk/high friends, like the rest of us, normals.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      It’s funny that your comment came in right after the one from “ThisIsNotADuplicateComment”. This is Steve stroking his ego, pure and simple. “Look at me, I’m a fake philosopher, look at how smart I am.”

    2. Dark Macadamia*

      But how will he show off how smart and interesting and superior he is if he has to have normal conversations?

    3. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      Maybe Steve does this at work with a captive audience in social situations, people can walk off or tell him they don’t care.

  25. Also-ADHD*

    I feel like Carrie’s answer isn’t even weird. If literally 2 people ever didn’t kill someone, saved a life, or brought them back from a suicidal ideation due to any work of Shakespeare (OR the myriad interpretations?), it would even out in a utilitarian way. The person isn’t someone you know. The person isn’t necessarily even a good person, right? If a play inspired someone to become a doctor or something (idk why but it’s not impossible, maybe watching Lear made them want to find better treatments for Dementia, whatever), etc, it could be even more widespread good. Obviously there’s no right answer but the more clear good to me, from a utilitarian perspective (frankly often more commonly taken today than a Kantian which is saving the life) is saving Shakespeare. Of course some folks don’t like Shakespeare, some folks don’t apparently think about the thought experiment at all, etc. But I’m also concerned that no one else even considered saving the plays, I guess (even when she said it). Makes me wonder what kind of people work there!

    1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      I’m ND and I also immediately thought that Carrie was applying a utilitarian code of ethics, which is a recognized ethical approach.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        Way back in my Livejournal days, I had someone on my LJ friends list who was an actual philosophy major (I think she’s a professor now). She said, “I think SOME PEOPLE on my friends list are SECRET UTILITARIANS and don’t know it!” I presume she meant me! I was amused. But I would have answered the same as Carrie, so yeah, I think she was right.

    2. Tommy Girl*

      Yah, I immediately thought “save the plays”. I’m admittedly more into, and moved by art (of all types), but art is what feeds the soul, makes life worth living (and love). Shakespeare is one of the greatest artists ever. Save the plays.

    3. Mom2ASD*

      I can definitely think of people I would trade for the works of Shakespeare being protected. The OP’s colleagues are right at the top of that list, at the moment.

    4. Pyjamas*

      I’m remembering true accounts of pograms in Eastern Europe when rabbis died trying to retrieve the Torah from a burning synagogue. These men believed a single copy of a book was worth a life

      1. Beany*

        Of course, the life they chose to sacrifice was their own, which is a very different question.

    5. deesse877*

      Eh, a truly utilitarian perspective has to reflect the fact that “Shakespeare” is a cultural object. There really was a guy who really wrote some awesome shit, and incidentally coined a truly atypical number of English words…but if he didn’t exist or was lost we’d find another timeless genius to celebrate. There is not actually a scarcity of human genius, in literature or elsewhere; it’s all a matter of access, dissemination, and tradition. Very literally: there is plenty else that is just as good. it just isn’t famous and honored in the same way. I think non-scholars, and even a lot of, um, unreflective scholars tend to assume that there is only one (or can be only one) WS, but that is not a given.

      Obviously this is no help to either Carrie or OP! Nor does it challenge the reading of her answer as reflecting utilitarian aspirations. But I think it’s worth noting how….repressive, inhumane, and ungrounded the assumption that creativity is scarce really is.

      1. LF*

        Commenting late just to say- I agree!!! I was trying to think how to explain my opinion, and you put it really well.

    6. Student*

      For a utilitarian analysis, you’d also need to consider the harms done by works of Shakespeare. If you’d give them credit for inspiring good, then you must also contemplate their potential to inspire bad acts. No idea how that accounting would ultimately play out, but keep in mind that suicide is a recurring theme, and perhaps the most famous.

    7. CJ*

      To me a more difficult question would be if there wasn’t a clear utilitarian answer. Let someone die or bring back two lost Shakespeare plays, which we’re getting along OK without? Does the answer change if it’s a life vs the (many, many) lost Greek tragedies? Or the works of a lost historian who could clear up a bunch of important questions?

    8. Modesty Poncho*

      I keep thinking of how very gay Shakespeare can get. Especially if we’re including sonnets here. Thinking of every young teen who might notice that the sonnets to the young man are about the same as the sonnets to the older woman, who may pick up the innuendo in Helena and Hermia as a “double cherry on a single stem,” who can learn that there are debates about whether Iago’s villainy is motivated by jealousy over Desdemona and a crush on Othello, and maybe beginning to understand that LGBTQIA+ people didn’t spring into being in the modern day with no history.

  26. Angela*

    I am Carrie (metaphorically). Also neurodivergent. All my life at first I’ve been welcomed by the group, but eventually a long slow freeze comes, and I am excluded again. I’ve never been able to figure out what I’ve done.

    So, at the age of 55, I’ve finally made my peace. I don’t join groups. I’m friendly, but know that too much exposure to any group will end in confusion and tears. Not looking for sympathy or help. I would have spoken as Carrie did, and gotten rejected. The only way to win is not to play. People are too difficult.

    1. Verthandi*

      Another Carrie here. I’m an introvert and my parents and too many teachers assumed that I was broken and needed fixing because of it. Those sorts of questions with only two answers and neither of them are right or wrong usually resulted in whatever answer I gave being wrong.

      Fun fact: In eighth grade, two different teachers asked the class the same question a month or so apart. In the second class I picked the answer I hadn’t given (the so-called right answer) and it was wrong. Not because the answer was wrong but because I was wrong.

      Letter Writer, if Carrie had given the other answer, would she still have been wrong?

    2. MCS*

      Same except I’m just super weird and awkward. People are too difficult! Almost every time you give them the benefit of the doubt to be half-way decent or even just neutral to anyone who’s different, they’ll prove they didn’t deserve it.

    3. Newsletter Subscriber and T-shirt Wearer*

      Hi, I’m also a Carrie — to the degree that I read the first two sentences of the OP’s post and had a pretty good guess what was next, based on my own experiences as a middle aged woman with fairly severe ADHD. I’ve probably been described as “chilly” because I’m perennially overwhelmed and try to focus, and I also have a hard time figuring out when are good times to offer information, especially in large informal groups. I have seen for myself that an outlier answer is the only excuse some groups to make the kind of decision they did.

      The fact that Carrie still attends what sound like optional work events makes me think that perhaps she hasn’t completely given up yet. I can relate. I know not all of the lunch table consists of jerks! I wouldn’t mind making work friends! But I’m *much* more comfortable, and also work best, in smaller groups. When I’m talking with 1-3 other people, I can really listen and focus, and I genuinely enjoy that. If you suspect Carrie is also in that category — and sure, she might not be — it might be worth considering spinning off from the giant lunch table from time to time and seeing if she’s interested in joining you and one or two other people, maybe somewhere low key and/or off-site.

      Honestly, it might be worth disrupting the Giant Lunch Table model a little more anyway, especially if it leads to this kind of nonsense.

    4. Polly Hedron*

      I’m Spartacus! I am Carrie too, but I think the best answer is not to give up. I keep trying because, although I expect to be rejected most of the time, sometimes I do make a connection.

      But I’m also Steve. I love thought experiments. I don’t start those discussions myself (because I know most people don’t like them) but I’m delighted if someone else starts such a discussion. I’d love to discuss the immortality pill, Mary’s room, and the Shakespeare question. I’d be happy to discuss thought experiments every day and I’d always want to hear both sides.

      I would guess that Steve’s thought experiments are sincere and that Steve usually also likes to hear both sides, because Steve’s initial reaction to Carrie was reasonable. I expect that if anyone else had chosen “Shakespeare”, that person would not have been ostracized.

      The problem is just the bullying of Carrie. Carrie got suckered into the discussion and now is getting punished for it. That has happened to me, too.

      Please, OP, use Alison’s scripts to defend Carrie!

  27. H.Regalis*

    Ugh, what a mess.

    I too was bracing myself for what the “thought experiment” stuff was going to be. Most of my experience with this is bad-faith awfulness like, “Thought Experiment: Convince me that women aren’t subhuman and shouldn’t be kept in cages and used for breeding.”

    Carrie doesn’t sound like the most fun person to be around, but it’s work: You’re not going to be friends with everyone. She’s not rude or hostile; she just keeps to herself. It sounds like everyone else is miffed about that and has latched onto her answer to the thought experiment as a reason that makes it okay to hate her.

    1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      To me, Carrie sounds like the least insufferable person in the whole workplace, except maybe LW who sounds fine.

      Steve and the others sound unbelievably boring and childish, though.

  28. CLC*

    Agree with Allison’s take. And yes, the whole thing is immature. I would stand up for her at the next opportunity. You don’t have to like everyone you work but you do have to show them basic respect.

  29. Elizabeth West*

    This is a clique. Your group is being clique-y and talking smack about Carrie behind her back. It’s unprofessional and very high school.

    Seriously, move on already.

  30. Rachel*

    This is bizarre. Like the point of thought experiments are to hear both sides. They just wanted a reason to be mean to Carrie.

  31. Salad Daisy*

    I thought this was supposed to be a website where we talk about work, not about what is happening in junior high!

    Seriously, the multinational company where I work is just like junior high. Cliques, gossip, crushes, and so forth. This group would feel right at home here.

  32. TeenieBopper*

    Man your coworkers (except Carrie) sound terrible. I’d bet there’s more awfulness, but you’re insulated from it because you’re part of the in group.

  33. Stacey*

    I am very quiet and keep to myself, my parents always brought work home with them and had very bad work/life boundaries so I was trained early to be silent, entertain myself, and only speak up if it’s really really important.

    I’m not saying this is every quiet person, but I very much get the vibe from people around me that others fill in the silent gaps with self-reflection. When you break that bubble and actually speak up but it’s not how they’d expect it can be jarring because then it creates a feedback loop. “I thought they were different, but they’re like this…am I like this??”

  34. Stormfly*

    Back when we were in the office every day, I led thought experiments a few times. However, they were on the topic of how you can define a soup vs how you can define a smoothie, and other equally intellectual topics. (That question is a lot harder than it seems.)
    Anything that involves putting a value on human life is a bad idea. If you find out something deeply unpleasant about a coworker’s values, you can’t distance yourself, like you would with someone you know socially. I probably would look a little askance at her answer, but I wouldn’t give it any more thought than that. And it definitely seems like they’re using it as an excuse to reinforce their existing beliefs. It’s possible that she’s not as quiet and reserved as she seems. he may have already been feeling the hostility before this, and has been trying to avoid their gossipy ways.

        1. This_is_Todays_Name*

          I think of it as juice since it’s extracted from fruits and veggies and there’s no yogurt or cream or ice blended into it. But, if it’s in a Bloody Mary, it’s just a delicious drink!

    1. Kara*

      “It’s possible that she’s not as quiet and reserved as she seems. he may have already been feeling the hostility before this, and has been trying to avoid their gossipy ways.”

      Yeah, I thought that too. She’s described as having a “chilly” personality – but maybe that’s because she’s the actual adult in the room.

    2. RussianInTexas*

      So, do we presume soup is cooked but a smoothie isn’t? Then my yogurt cucumber soup is a smoothie?

      1. Storm in a teacup*

        would that then make gazpacho a smoothie also and not soup?

        As for the hotdog – in the UK a sausage in a bap aka a sausage sandwich is very common, especially in the morning to treat a hangover. So… I am on the side of sandwich

        1. This_is_Todays_Name*

          To me if it’s between bread it’s a sandwich, regardless if the bread is shaped like a square, a round bun or a long bun. I’m with you.

  35. matt r*

    i’ll be honest, the alarm bells were ringing in my head with the phrase “we eat together in the conference room most days.”

    anyway, i guess i’m just old and set in my ways, but this is the kind of crap that makes me avoid social situations with co-workers like the absolute plague. i don’t care what any of the people i work with think about anything other than work, let alone pseudo-intellectual “thought experiments.”

    if i’m carrie and hear one word about i’m shopping my resume before the sentence ends. i wouldn’t want to work with any of these people.

  36. MsM*

    Ooh, alternate idea for dealing with the mean clique: just start throwing Shakespeare quotes at them. “Lord, what fools these mortals be” seems like a good start. Or “but I remember now, I am in this earthly world, where to do harm is often laudable; to do good sometime accounted dangerous folly.”

    1. MCS*

      Ah yes, good idea. And one good thing about Shakespeare, whatever your opinion of him: the insults have already been extracted out into lists, probably divided by appropriate usage, so you don’t even have to read him to use him that way.

      Perhaps throw in a few Monty Python insults to shake it up a bit. Jane Austen’s got some good stuff too.

        1. MCS*

          Well, all I know is I bite my thumb at him. He probably should have developed his mind by extensive reading.

      1. Elinor*

        Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition.

  37. Spiders Everywhere*

    As an autistic person, this is just what happens to you if you’re “different.” You don’t quite put on the “correct” social performance, so they get uncomfortable around you, so they pounce on any little excuse to justify pushing you out. Women have it especially hard – men are allowed to be a little weird in ways that women just aren’t.

    1. MsJaytee*

      I’m glad I’m not the only person who read and thought it sounded familiar.

      And my bosses wonder why I don’t want to return to the office.

  38. Ccbac*

    does Carrie have a chilly personality or did Carrie hear about the ~thought experiments~ and decide she wanted no part in that lunch clique?

    from the letter, it does feel like Carrie is the only adult at your workplace and I’d recommend occasionally taking your lunch elsewhere and/or opting out of the ~thought experiment~ questions. inevitably one of the questions will go too far and you don’t want to have any part of that.

    1. MCS*

      Well, I mean, the questions already went to far when they were used as a tool to ostracize Carrie. And LW wants no part of it.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Or have lunch with Carrie. I’m sure she’s a better dining companion than these immature yahoos.

    3. Dark Macadamia*

      Right? If I had to watch Steve smugly pose questions like this and then listen to my coworkers debate immortality or whatever I would eat alone too!

      1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

        Debate immortality but also no one is allowed a different opinion. In a thought experiment! Urgg, nope.

  39. CommanderBanana*

    Freezing someone out because they didn’t answer a hypothetical thought experiment question the “right” way? This workplace sounds like a nightmare.

  40. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Boss’s judgements can be GOOD.
    If I were the boss and you brought it to my attention, I’d judge you as having a good sense of unprofessional behavior and the backbone to do the right thing in a tricky business situation.

    The bullies however? They would get an earful.

  41. Boss Scaggs*

    Wow, those colleagues sound incredibly bizarre to put it mildly. I hope Carrie gets (proportional) revenge on them like her namesake

  42. Kara*

    This part bothered me as much as all the rest:
    “The next day at lunch, Steve expressed relief the IT update was over so Carrie would stay away. Many chimed in with their agreement”

    This is so ridiculously juvenile and cliquish. Just because Carrie is quiet and reserved (and describing this as “chilly” bothers me as well) and keeps to herself doesn’t mean she deserves to be treated like a pariah. And when she does interact with her co-workers in a perfectly acceptable way, both socially and professionally, she shouldn’t be treated badly for it.

    Your co-workers are bullies and deserve to be called out for it.

  43. WellRed*

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the lunch mob starts to break down a bit with some employees opting out more frequently at times, especially if OP speaks up. Which they should.

  44. CityMouse*

    Your coworkers are a pretty nasty clique. also here’s the dilemma, speak up and get iced yourself, stay silent and let someone get bullied, or start job searching.

    I’d probably pick #3.

    1. Coverage Associate*

      As a Carrie who recently got left out of a professional opportunity secretly offered to others on my team because…I don’t know exactly why. My advice would be #3 too. That job won’t work long term.

    2. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      1, with the knowledge that you’re also going to do 3.

      It’s not like Steve is the person you need a reference from.

  45. Bear Expert*

    Lunch time thought experiments led by a loudmouth jerk, judged by other jerks sounds like my personalized version of hell.

    I have a whole degree in philosophy. Practicing philosophy is very, very rarely about hardlined, no win, random comparisons. I hate these traps, they aren’t thoughtful and they don’t reveal anything. At best, they’re boring. At worst, they hurt feelings, upset people and instigate bullying, as seen here.

    I’ll play “what is a sandwich?” all day though – trying to find clear functional definitions for things that looks simple is actually a deep practice of philosophy. (There’s a fun one going around about “no vehicles in the park” and how to define a vehicle.) This can be confusing because some of the work that is easiest to access around definitions often looks like the random hardlined choice activity.

    Tell your colleagues to get a hobby that isn’t shitting on a coworker – how we treat each other is something that actually matters, unlike thought experiments. And then ask if a roller skate is a vehicle or if a burrito is a sandwich.

  46. Just Another Zebra*

    OP’s lunch group would hate me, because I’d also save all of Shakespeare’s written works. As the author responsible for introducing over 1,000 words to the English language, his impact far transcends some 14-year-olds reading Romeo and Juliet. And as for saving that one human, let’s go down the butterfly effect rabbit hole about what the purpose of that stranger’s death was. After all, isn’t that the point of though experiments?

    OP, this isn’t about Carrie’s answer. The group doesn’t like her and is grasping onto this as a reason why.

  47. Capt. Liam Shaw*

    I think the question for the “thought experiment” is outrageous but… honestly, I find Carrie’s answer a bit disturbing. I can understand the coworkers still discussing it. They all interpreted what she said as Carrie would let one of them die to save a bunch old stories/books. I can understand the coworkers being unnerved by that.

    1. Observer*

      If that’s what these folks think, then they need to grow up. Seriously.

      And if that’s how Steve saw it, then he wasn’t posing a “thought experiment” but a “secret test”.

      Lastly, they are not just “unnerved”. They are actively bullying her, and spending a ridiculous amount of time trashing her.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          No, they’re not. If Steve thinks there’s only one ‘good’ answer, then he doesn’t want a discussion–he wants to find out who gives the ‘bad’ answer.

          For Observer’s third paragraph, I give you this quote from the letter: “Unfortunately, every day at lunch since at least one person will bring up Carrie’s response to the question and how freaked out they were by it and that will prompt a prolonged discussion about the weirdness and how people don’t want to be around her and how she’s always been “off.”

          1. Fluffy Fish*

            The irony of Capt. telling someone their response is a lot of conjecture when their whole statement is pure conjecture.

            As has been pointed out but should be again here because…conjecture. One person you’ve never met isn’t a coworker you’re sitting around a lunch table with.

            “If you had to choose between the death of one person you’ve never met or the destruction of all the works of Shakespeare (or another author you prefer), what would your choice be?”

    2. JustMe*

      Eh. It’s supposed to be hypothetical and something that you use as a vehicle to have a discussion about justice, what is good for society, etc. etc. The follow up questions would often be, “Well, who is this person we’re talking about? Is it Just to let anyone die for the betterment of society? Does it matter who they are? Would the person have a choice? Is Shakespeare arguably worth more than a human life in the abstract sense? How do we determine worth?” The question is definitely not “Would you kill any of your coworkers?” and it’s weird to me that people interpreted it that way (especially because the question is asking about an unknown stranger).

    3. FrivYeti*

      I think you’re giving the coworkers a lot more credit than they deserve, especially Steve.

      A lot of people are going to say that they consider culture to be of immense value. A lot of people have been willing to die to preserve their cultural heritage for future generations. A lot of people will say that, in terms of what is more beneficial for society, a vast cultural trove is more valuable than a single life. Discounting incredibly important cultural artifacts as “a bunch of old stories” is a perspective that is far less universal than you seem to think.

      But more importantly than all that: STEVE PROPOSED THE THOUGHT EXPERIMENT.

      As has been said abvove, it’s not a thought experiment if it has a wrong answer. It’s a purity test. I have no patience for people who create purity tests, and I refuse to give them the benefit of the doubt for being “unnerved” by it.

    4. This_is_Todays_Name*

      We don’t know that that’s how they interpreted it. Just that the “standard” acceptable knee jerk response to any of THOSE type of questions is always that human life takes precedence over art or “things” when it comes to value and Carrie believes that the art of Shakespeare is transcendent enough to be of more value than perhaps one person. Never did she say or imply “specifically one of you jerks” to her coworkers. They just got weirded out because she actually applied some critical thinking and answered in an unexpected way and they’re too immature to understand the idea of a “thought experiment” is to think.

      1. Capt. Liam Shaw*

        So what you are saying is Carrie gave an intellectual comment to a bunch of non-intellectuals. Carrie may have been better to read the atmosphere of the room and realized how condescending that would be appear.

        1. Fluffy Fish*

          Are you Steve? Seriously dude. Why are you going so hard to villainize the victim here?

        2. goddess21*

          Existing as a person who thinks, including the expression of those thoughts, and ESPECIALLY including expressing those thoughts *when someone asked for them*, does not constitute “condescension.”

          1. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

            How dare Carrie not pretend to be shallow in order to fit in!

        3. RussianInTexas*

          Are you a person who does not like “intellectuals”? Because that is how it comes across.

        4. Observer*

          Carrie may have been better to read the atmosphere of the room and realized how condescending that would be appear.

          So it’s ok to bully someone because they were condescending? I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that group bullying is an appropriate response to someone being condescending.

          1. Capt. Liam Shaw*

            The group response is a lot. I am
            pretty quick to pull the bullying card, but this is what I keep getting hung up on
            from the LW:

            “Unfortunately, every day at lunch since at least one person will bring up Carrie’s response to the question and how freaked out they were by it and that will prompt a prolonged discussion about the weirdness and how people don’t want to be around her and how she’s always been “off.” . ”

            People are allowed to have boundaries at work, especially when people get really weird. Doesn’t make it bullying. They are still in contact with her via email and will speak to her. And work is getting done. So…

            1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

              “People are allowed to have boundaries at work.”

              Well, except Carrie. Her boundaries mean she’s “always seemed off” and she’s “chilly.”

              Reasonable work boundaries aren’t “I refuse to talk to you in person, I will now only talk over email”, and they definitely aren’t repeatedly gossiping about how awful someone is.

              Carrie hasn’t been weird. It was Steve’s question. If one of the answers is “weird” then Steve is weird for asking it.

              Seriously, your comments seem like you’re going out of your way to defend the indefensible.

            2. This_is_Todays_Name*

              You need to understand boundaries. Carrie not joining in their Reindeer Games is her exercising HER boundaries at work, aka not being all cliquey with the colleagues. Her coworkers continuing to discuss her day in and day out and decide she’s a freak for not thinking and acting exactly as they do and they expect is NOT establishing a boundary. It’s bullying and it’s unprofessional and inappropriate in the workplace. Now, go back to work, Steve.

            3. Observer*

              People are allowed to have boundaries at work, especially when people get really weird. Doesn’t make it bullying. They are still in contact with her via email and will speak to her.

              This is not setting boundaries. They are being rude to her and refusing to speak to her, both in the basic politenesses and in situations where conversations make more sense.

              And trashing her every day is so far beyond “setting boundaries” that I find it hard to believe that you are arguing in good faith.

        5. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

          “So what you are saying is Carrie gave an intellectual comment to a bunch of non-intellectuals. Carrie may have been better to read the atmosphere of the room and realized how condescending that would be appear.”

          It wasn’t Carrie’s idea to do a “thought experiment” regularly over lunch hour!

          Thought experiments are supposed to be intellectual! Steve probably seems condescending to a lot of people, leading them in intellectual exercises while they’re trying to eat their sandwiches.

          Carrie joined in. She’s criticised when she doesn’t, she’s criticised when she does.

          If they found it “condescending” – and we have no reason to believe they do – they are being utterly ridiculous.

        6. This_is_Todays_Name*

          That is nowhere close to what I said, and please don’t attempt to mansplain my own words back at me or put words in my mouth…or fingers. Carrie wasn’t being condescending in giving a “thoughtful” answer to what was presented as a “thought experiment”… the key word being “thought.”

    5. Middle of HR*

      The question specifies that you don’t know the person who dies. It’s not a “would you kill your coworker” question, and the works in question changed history. For all you know, tons of people you love would not have been born if those stories didn’t exist.
      The coworkers weren’t disturbed by the answer they knew from the beginning some people would pick Shakespeare, otherwise it’d be a pointless “experiment”. They just don’t like Carrie and this is an excuse. Grade school level thinking on their part.

      1. Czhorat*

        It’s a bit like the classic “trolley problem” and “surgeons dilemma” in that it sets up a hypothetical with no positive outcomes, and puts you in a no-win situation. I could imagine a next step of “what if the one person is yourself/your spouse/me?”, but now it’s veering into deliberate emotional manipulation.

    6. Czhorat*

      It’s a bizarre hypothetical with no possibility of a real-world application. As “Bear Expert” said above, this isn’t real philosophy; it’s a trap that puts one in a no-win situation without any answers that can’t be interpreted as monstrous on some level. It’s what I’d expect of college freshmen who just took “Intro to philosophy for engineering majors”; there are better and more interesting ways to discuss the relative merits of literature.

      As it has been written, “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play”.

    7. Fluffy Fish*

      The question was sacrifice a bunch of stories or sacrifice a human. Not sacrifice a coworker.

      You are interpreting it that Carrie was saying she would let one of them die. We have no idea how the coworkers interpreted it.

      Carrie said no such thing.

      You are disturbed because Carrie chose the answer that you would not have to a completely hypothetical, made up, not real, in no way would ever happen.

      And then you are assigning it a motivation that you came up with.

      There is nothing justifiable about her colleagues behavior.

    8. Cherries Jubilee*

      Sorry, but that’s ridiculous. That’s like saying that it’s disturbing behavior to kill characters while playing a video game. The person playing the video game knows that it’s a game and that is fundamentally different in every way from real life.

      The whole point of most of these hypothetical thought experiments is that there’s a push and pull between two equally compelling or repellent options. And often that discussing them involves flippant discussion of life and death matters, since it’s not actually playing out into real life. If these were supposed to be questions where everyone unanimously expressed only the one side, then they’re not thought experiments!

    9. HonorBox*

      If Carrie pointed at someone and said “I’d sacrifice YOU” then there’s reason to be unnerved and reason to behave differently. Nothing in the question was about a specific person, though. Maybe people disagree with Carrie. That’s part of a “thought experiment.” But that doesn’t give anyone the right to freeze someone out for A MONTH. The coworkers are actively not speaking to Carrie. That is far more unnerving than an answer to a question posed as lunchtime fodder.

    10. WellRed*

      It there’s only one “correct” answer, then it’s a failure as a thought experiment.

    11. mondaysamiright*

      Well, the choices in the thought experiment were the plays or a “person you’ve never met,” so it couldn’t be one of the coworkers she’d let die. But even if you find that disturbing, I can’t imagine you’d be bringing it up all the time, days after she said it.

    12. RussianInTexas*

      This is a hypothetical thought experiment which has no basis in reality, as in it will never ever happen. There is no situation in which anyone’s choice can be tested. There is “one of them dies” situation here.
      It is really immature to freeze out someone for answering differently to a thought experiment, the whole point of such experiment is having no right answers.
      For the record, I would have answered the same as Carrie. Partly because I agree, and partly because I get the defiant streak when met with a group that all decided one-sidedly in unison.

      1. Czhorat*

        Yeah. That’s the strength and weakness of quetions like that – the strength is that iyou CAN answer anything because it is both abstract and impossible, the weakness that .. well, the same. That there are no *real* stakes because the situation is so divorced from reality as to be a pure abstraction.

    13. Irish Teacher*

      But if Steve thought like that, why did he pose the question? The point of the question is that the two things are supposed to be of equal value and difficult to choose between, otherwise the question is pointless.

      By posing the question, Steve was implying that he thinks both of these things of similar value. If he doesn’t, he should have chosen different options. The question only works if both choices are pretty much equally valid.

  48. GreyjoyGardens*

    Is Steve’s real name Billy Nolan? And where is Chris Hargensen? Because that’s what your workplace sounds like – a school full of cliquey meanies. People who aren’t in the “inner circle” but are still accepted often don’t see this. But people like Carrie absolutely do.

    Definitely stand up for Carrie (and I really hope you can do this without being thrown under the bus yourself – if you are, this is a clear indicator that your workplace is bananacrackers and full of bees) and see if you can get the bosses and HR, if there is an HR, on the case.

    People don’t have to *like* their coworkers or be friends with them. But you do have to be polite and friendLY. Otherwise your office degenerates into a middle school cafeteria, and it sounds like you are halfway there. For all you know there are other people who would be oh so glad to talk about the weather, their pets, their favorite sports team, and the delicious new barbecue recipe they tried, rather than “I’m 14 and this is deep” thought experiments. Or if you do, keeping them to the anodyne “what is a sandwich? Is a taco a sandwich?” Or “Is V8 a smoothie, or is it cold vegetable soup?” Types of things would be better.

  49. Ellis Bell*

    OP it can feel quite daunting to go against a crowd who are this aggressively cliquey, but even a very mild “eh, no” will often do the trick. Mild suggestions: ‘I thought it was just a thought experiment? Everyone taking it like a serious answer is kind of an alarming reaction”, ‘Mmm you know we shouldn’t do any more thought experiments if we’re going to be like this about the answers”, “I thought it was a thought experiment, not a trick question.”, “I agree with her actually”, “This makes me wonder how you talk about me.” If people aren’t getting it as a hint, it’s always worth dropping the mildness entirely, telling yourself they have had some warnings and chances to stop, and just saying: “Can we stop talking about Carrie yet? She said one thing quite a while ago, and I’m sick of feeling uncomfortable around these conversations”.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      Oh, and sometimes it’s possible to cut people off at the pass with things like this because people enter trash talking conversations gingerly. So if you hear: “Hey what did you make of Carrie the other day” go straight in with:”You mean when she chose one of two reasonable answers and everyone got weird about it?”. Think of it as preventing someone making a fool of themselves.

  50. SereneScientist*

    This whole thing is so strange and terribly unkind to Carrie, who has done nothing except (it seems) commit the cardinal sin of…what, not being like the rest of her coworkers?

    LW, is your office weirdly clique-y around other things too? Because the whole atmosphere of this interaction and the subsequent fallout suggests to me that the culture in your office is not as inclusive as it probably ought to be. I second other commenters that you should speak up at some point, if you feel comfortable, and hope that it’ll at least force your colleagues to pause and think through what they’re doing.

  51. DannyG*

    Sounds like the ethics discussions in grad school and residency: the trolly car dilemma; if you could go back in time and kill Hitler before he was well known would you, etc. The whole point is that there is no right answer but the discussion can highlight different points. When I read this post I thought about both arguments and, though I settled on the first, I could see the argument she chose as possible (though possibly flawed). In those discussions, many years ago, I would sometimes play the Devil’s advocate and argue the unpopular point to spur discussion, and I wondered reading if Carrie was doing the same?

    1. SnappinTerrapin*

      Ah, the memories!

      A couple of friends and I used to have fun in philosophy class. We would rehearse three positions on the topic of the day. We would each take an initial position, and debate for awhile, and let someone else speak up. Then we would shift over one position and renew the debate. After letting someone else talk for a few minutes, we would shift positions again.

      Someone stopped me on the sidewalk after class and asked whether I realized I had contradicted myself.

  52. MissouriGirl in LA*

    Nobody should wonder why Carrie doesn’t want to join the rest of the gang for lunch. I wouldn’t either. I suspect that this is not something limited to the lunch crew and the “b*tchy little schoolgirls” (with deference to Sam Axe of Burn Notice) are not all that nice. It is probably pervasive throughout…defend Carrie and make sure she’s ok. Maybe even ask if she’d like to have lunch with you, somewhere else-even if it’s in your office.

  53. This_is_Todays_Name*

    The people in that office are being horribly judgmental towards Carrie. Maybe I’m an awful person too, but when I read that, as someone with a degree in English Literature who taught English for many years, I was like, “oooh that’s a tough one!” and didn’t immediately have the “oh I’d definitely save the person” response. I’m sure others in the office just didn’t even give it any thought and just gave the knee jerk expected response. At least Carrie showed some critical thinking skills and that she’s okay with being herself and thinking outside the “acceptable” box. I hope the LW can continue to befriend and build a rapport with Carrie. Still waters often run deep. In the interim, do as A suggests and stand up for her!!

    1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      I had the same reaction as you! I have a degree in English AND a theater bacground, and to me, a world without Shakespeare would be a very dismal prospect!

      Those Carrie haters would probably despise me, because my next thought was, “Who is the person that would have to die?” Because if it was someone truly awful like a serial killer or…certain politicians, I’d pick Shakespeare for sure.

      I guess I am a terrible human being!

  54. umami*

    So essentially these ‘thought experiments’ are really meant to be a hive mind session? Your colleagues really need to rethink how they relate to others if they have an issue with someone throwing out an answer to a fake scenario that differs from the rest of the group. Your workplace does not sound very healthy or welcoming of ideas in general.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I suspect OP is right that anyone Steve liked could have made this observation and no one would have cared.

      Because Carrie usually avoids the cliques and doesn’t take part in the light conversation, they haven’t had anything to really pin on her to post hoc justify their dislike. (When she hands me the TPS report she’s polite… but not effusive.) Until now.

    2. Gale*

      Yeah the ‘thought experiment’ sounds more like a ‘loaded question.’ No wonder Carrie rarely spoke up in the first place.

  55. bathing suit gown*

    Your coworkers are being so childish they’re violating child labor laws.

    Honestly how the heck do these morons have jobs while the rest of us don’t???

  56. River*

    People feel united and superior when they all have that one person in common they have presumptuous thoughts about. I feel bad for Carrie in this situation and it’s not right for her co-workers to treat her like this behind her back. Like Alison said, it sounds like her co-workers had pre-existing thoughts and biases about Carrie to begin with. It’s unfair her co-workers are ostracizing her because she didn’t give into the “group think” culture. Carrie deserves to continue to be treated like a valued employee and just because she’s quiet and awkward, it gives the others no right to act as they are doing. Maybe there’s a reason Carrie does not join in most social settings. The group she works with does not sound socially healthy. She just proved she might be the brightest one there in all honesty!

  57. Former Retail Manager*

    Likely an unpopular opinion, but….. In isolation, I agree that the coworkers are being mean about this particular scenario. It was a lighthearted discussion, Carrie spoke her piece, and they should move on from that isolated incident.

    But when looking at the bigger picture, I’d venture to say that I’d be surprised if Carrie stays at this company long-term. While I understand not wanting to eat lunch with your co-workers every day, never eating with them also sends a message. In this office, lunch seems to be part of the culture and refusing to ever eat with them is definitely a message. While it has nothing to do with the quality of her work, it kinda says “I don’t even like you enough to eat one meal per week with you and make idle chitchat for 30 minutes” which frankly doesn’t buy Carrie a lot of goodwill with coworkers, so I’m not surprised that some of the coworkers don’t like her. I don’t think anyone would expect her to dine with them every day, but one day a week isn’t going to kill anyone, and if she really dislikes these people so much that one meal per week is intolerable, then maybe this isn’t the place for her anyway.

    1. MsM*

      If this is a representative example of this office’s culture, I think a lot of us wouldn’t want to suffer through even one lunch a week with them if we had a choice, either. Getting rid of Carrie might superficially restore harmony, but it doesn’t mean there’s not a problem with their attitude that needs to be addressed before someone who isn’t so easily replaced comes in and isn’t happy about getting the cold shoulder for being more of a thinker than a feeler. It’s like the office where people who were tired of the constant beer runs kept getting pushed out, even though some of those hires had been brought in specifically because the rest of the team was supposed to learn from them.

    2. Fluffy Fish*

      There is something very very wrong with a culture that decides they don’t like someone because they don’t participate in a completely not required activity.

      We don’t like her because she doesn’t eat with is is just so unbelievably childish.

      Not to mention it sure sounds like they absolutely did not want Carrie to eat with them – even one day a week.

      I do agree the office has a culture though – you’re either in the clique or youre not.

    3. Cherries Jubilee*

      Wanting to actually disconnect from work on your lunch isn’t the same thing as communicating to your coworkers that you don’t like them! If they’re so set on eating together being this badge of belonging, then they should make it easy for her to start doing so, not to treat her like her ship has sailed because she spent so long not eating lunch with them.

      Especially in retail or other public facing jobs, where you’re constantly bombarded with emotional labor and draining minor hostilities, I have always wanted to eat lunch alone because it’s my only time to regroup and have some privacy. That changes when you become particularly close with certain coworkers, but having lunch be a social time, especially a pressure-to-be-social time, just really sucks for a huge amount of people. And in Carrie’s case, she could probably already tell that people weren’t super friendly to her, so of course she didn’t want to go out of her way to eat lunch with them! They’ve kind of created a chicken and the egg scenario.

    4. Nest*

      She’s not doing anything wrong by taking her lunch period to herself. That’s her time to recharge, it’s healthy to do so. By the letter writer’s own account, Carrie is not rude or unfriendly and does attend after work events.

    5. Ellis Bell*

      I think you’ve missed the part where Carrie does socialise with the group quite often! Just not at lunch time. Lunch really isn’t some kind of sacrosanct time for team bonding, without which dark assumptions of hidden dislikes must be made! A ton of people don’t like to stop for lunch, or prefer to work through it, or really need to recharge with some alone time. I hear what you’re saying about “lunch seems to be part of the culture”, but that’s not a reasonable expectation to go along with any more than “trash talking and exclusion seems to be part of the culture”. If a culture is going to be that weird and defensive about who eats lunch with who, they need to warn people that taking lunch together is required, just the “no jokes” culture place needed to warn people. It’s that bizarre.

    6. Lady_Lessa*

      My guess based on the fact that I tend to be more like Carrie is that she tried once or twice. If she weren’t made welcome, then why bother.

    7. Observer*

      While I understand not wanting to eat lunch with your co-workers every day, never eating with them also sends a message. In this office, lunch seems to be part of the culture and refusing to ever eat with them is definitely a message.


      which frankly doesn’t buy Carrie a lot of goodwill with coworkers, so I’m not surprised that some of the coworkers don’t like her.

      And? It’s one thing to not like someone much. They don’t need to. It’s another to spend time on a daily basis trashing that person, much less being constantly rude to them.

      Also, I’m going to agree with others that if she got a sense of what they are like, it’s not much wonder she doesn’t like to eat lunch with them.

      But also, not joining everyone for lunch doesn’t necessarily “send a message.” At least, not with adults.

    8. Irish Teacher*

      Honestly, not eating with people doesn’t mean that one dislikes them so much that eating with them is intolerable. Introverts exist and may need time alone each day. Even one day a week when you get no time to yourself can be pretty tough, even if you really really like your coworkers and enjoy their company. I know extroverts who would not be able to spend 7 hours in a row alone without speaking to anybody and that is pretty much the same in reverse.

      I do understand what you are saying and lots of people are insecure, but if any of her coworkers think “Carrie never eats with us; she must really find us intolerable,” that’s a mark of their personal insecurity and nothing really to do with Carrie. It’s not the most likely interpretation of her not eating them and while I can totally imagine people thinking it, that’s an issue with them, not her.

      Plus, even if I did start thinking like that, and I might because we can be insecure sometimes, my thoughts would be more like “did I do something to hurt/upset Carrie and make her dislike me?” not, “Carrie prefers to eat lunch alone, therefore she must find me intolerable and this is a fault with her.”

      Lunchtime is supposed to be a time to relax and recharge, not a time you feel forced to do something even mildly inconvenient. You are meant to look forward to your lunch, not think “well, I can put up with it.”

    9. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      No, eating lunch by yourself doesn’t send any message whatsoever. Grown adults should not be protecting their own fictional ideas on to their colleagues’ choices this way.

      If the coworkers sounded wonderful, it would still be 100% reasonable for Carrie to eat alone. (The LW says she does participate in organised events etc.) But the coworkers do not sound wonderful. They sound tedious and mean.

      I hope Carrie doesn’t last long here, I hope she leaves and goes to work somewhere else, with normal adults who don’t give each other faux intellectual tests at lunch time and then turn against people who participate. She sounds fine, they sound boring and weird.

  58. Punk*

    OP is finding out why Carrie doesn’t socialize with her coworkers. I’d bet there were prior issues that caused her to stay away in the first place.

  59. Margaret Cavendish*

    I first thought the question used in the thought experiment was going to be wildly racist or otherwise problematic, and the cold war was between the people who were saying “this is racist and problematic” and the people saying “It’s FINE, it’s just a THOUGHT EXPERIMENT, of course we don’t actually BELIEVE these things, lighten up!”

    This is better, I guess, but only marginally. Either way the outcome is that Steve needs to knock it off with the thought experiments.

    1. Margaret Cavendish*

      Also, OP, I don’t know if you chose the name Carrie specifically because of the Stephen King novel, but well done if so!

      Further thought experiment: if OP’s Carrie could make the ending of the book come true in her workplace, would that be a justified use of her powers? y/n

  60. Cherries Jubilee*

    It’s ridiculous to pretend that people’s answers to a hypothetical, obviously fantastical question directly correspond to what they would literally do if there was a human life in their hands. Everyone is acting in bad faith here, pretending that her answer makes her some kind of monster.

    Like, it’s also extremely common to make dark humor jokes regarding tragic historical events (9/11 etc) or things like serial killers, etc. To turn around and pretend to take those as literal is just a different form of being a jerk.

  61. Morgan Hazelwood*

    I think I might try something like, “Wow. It was a thought experiment. If I knew people would take me so seriously at these, I’d eat lunch alone, too.” When they talk about how weird her response was.

    With some “That’s pretty unprofessional.” if they mention avoiding her aloud.

  62. Knope 2024*

    I’m autistic*, and I relate to Carrie at a visceral level. I have been a “Carrie” so many times at school and work, and the lesson it’s taught me is to just not put myself in this type of situation if I can help it, which can be very isolating.

    I have lived this scenario of reluctantly joining the group in the lunch room because there wasn’t an alternative. Then getting up the courage to be social and join the conversation, and having it completely backfire. And then spending the next YEAR never leaving my desk or interacting with others unless absolutely necessary because I got the loud and clear message that I was not a part of the group.

    These bullies need to be called out. If someone had spoken up in my defense and I found out about it, I would have been mortified but also glad the entire group wasn’t against me. Also, as others have noted, making a point of being friendly toward Carrie would also be a kind thing for LW to do.

    *Not doing any diagnosis speculation on Carrie, just providing my perspective.

    1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      Thank you for this comment. It’s really distressing to read this, it brings up a lot of feelings.

    2. Harper the Other One*

      I don’t know if I’d b receive a diagnosis but this rang very true to my childhood/young adulthood experience and very much matches watching my AuDHD kiddo. I don’t know if neurodivergence is part of the picture for Carrie, but it does make me think that a lot of “culture fit” things are very neurodivergent unfriendly.

  63. Nysee*

    As OP pointed out, Carrie wanted to come in, do her job, and go home. As such, Carrie read the room, saw she was dealing with a bunch of immature, middle-school bullies, and knew just how to answer.

    By doing that, Carrie made sure they would all leave her alone, and not try to engage her further, or think she’d want to be more than colleagues.

    Well played, Carrie! I’ll bet you’re inwardly laughing at the whole bunch.

  64. Nest*

    I am projecting way too much here, and I admit that. But. I just read this and it kind of upset me because it made me wonder if this kind of thing is exactly why people at work sometimes don’t quite seem to like me (obviously I can relate to Carrie here).

    So, okay. She comes to work and is NOT rude or unfriendly. Great! So she is polite and friendly. Cool. Next, she keeps to herself – I guess as opposed to forming lunchtime cliques and gossiping – but DOES still attend company parties. Has some boundaries but doesn’t isolate herself, sounds good so far.

    Then, she comes to the group lunch, where she DOES greet everyone. She then participates in the conversation with everyone else, and actually answers the question.

    But.. she’s a freak? She’s “off”?

    If this perfectly normal, professional, polite woman is being frozen out by her colleagues, then I honestly don’t even know anymore. It makes me think about weird ways people have interacted with me at times at work, and I just don’t know. If Carrie is so weird, but I feel like she’s done everything right, then I guess I must be doing something wrong too. And I would never be able to tell you what.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      Nest, although I can’t complain much and I mostly do fit in; I have definitely been Carrie on occasion too. It’s always around that particular group of people who don’t seem terribly confident or independent, but have “found each other”. One thing I will say is that while I desire to be liked, I’m not going to parrot other people’s predefined scripts, or run my day entirely around them, and I know that some people actually expect and need that! Just think how awfully desperate these people must be for approval to make a metaphorical village stocks for someone, just so that they know it isn’t them on the receiving end! I’ll take the occasional weird vibe from desperadoes than actually become one myself.

    2. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      I hear you and also felt all of that on reading this letter.

      But truly, reasonable people would question the colleagues and not Carrie.

      There are workplaces (and other social environments) where people are this wildly unreasonable, though. And it makes me just feel helpless and depressed.

  65. HonorBox*

    I’m all for bringing this to the attention of management, OP. I wouldn’t do so in a gossip-y way, but I would mention that a casual lunchtime activity has caused a shift in the dynamic of the office, which has caused coworkers to actively freeze Carrie out. They’re sending emails instead of speaking to her. That can’t be helpful to the function of the business, as it can be much more time-consuming to get answers or address needs.

    If they want to dig deeper, you can then open up the conversation a bit about how, over the past month, people have continued to talk about it and it has completely derailed the working relationship they need to have with Carrie. But the first part should be enough.

    Additionally, I think you should work to shut down the conversation. Asking people why they’re still focused on an answer to a question that didn’t have a right or wrong answer would be a good way to start. They’ve spent A MONTH talking about Carrie behind her back for simply participating in what was supposed to be a thought experiment – a fun activity that spurs lunchtime conversation. Pointing out how much time and energy they’re spending might also help them see how ridiculous they’re being.

  66. Buttercrunch*

    And this is why I tend to not deviate from work topics at work.

    It’s like she can’t win- they think she’s “off” for not participating in the group lunches but then don’t really want her there anyway.

  67. Bubblr*

    People are uncomfortable cause she can think outside the box. This woman is smart. And they are scared of her. Carry on.

  68. DannyG*

    Carrie needs to put random Shakespeare quotes on her email signature. Maybe few posters if her workspace permits (Shakespeare in the Park, etc)

  69. Aquamarine*

    There was a Dear Prudence letter years ago about the same type of thought experiment. I didn’t know they could be so fraught! They sound like questions we used to muse about as teenagers while floating around the pool. People should try to chill out.

    “Dear Prudence, my girlfriend and I are having a disagreement. I posed to her the following hypothetical situation: Would you rescue from fire and certain destruction the last surviving copy on earth of the complete works of Shakespeare or a single puppy? My girlfriend says that she would rescue the puppy because the puppy is a fellow living being. She is highly educated and claims to have great respect for Shakespeare. But I think my girlfriend’s choice is the wrong one. I would rescue the Shakespeare, not just because of the aesthetic enjoyment we get from his work but also because of all the moral insight it provides us (including possibly the insight that enables the concept of animal rights in the first place). We’ve argued a lot about this. I cannot take her answer seriously, but I find it rather disturbing nonetheless. She never rejected the hypothetical question out of hand or said that the two things aren’t even comparable. She says that preserving a living conscious thing is more valuable than preserving Shakespeare. My girlfriend loves animals, especially her poodle, and is a die-hard vegetarian. I am, on the other hand, obsessed with Shakespeare and rather neutral toward animals. What is the best way for us to defuse this situation?”

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      Haha, I remember that one! Dude just would not let it go–he kept bringing it up and stewing on it. I think Prudence told him that either he needs to let it go once and for all, or decide that it meant their values were so opposed that he should break up with her. His choice, but continuing to argue about it was doing no good at all.

      1. Margaret Cavendish*

        This. The whole setup is preposterous, and HE’s the one who can’t take it seriously?

    2. Dark Macadamia*

      This dude thinks the human capacity to care about animals is only possible because of Shakespeare? hahaha

  70. Hannah*

    That’s not a group I’d want to join for lunch either. Thought experiments like that also don’t seem incredibly interesting or helpful unless, apparently, everyone is agreeing with the guy who posed the question.

    Speak up, see if Carrie would rather eat lunch out of the office or one on one!

  71. Zarniwoop*

    “For my part, I’ve tried to continue to approach Carrie the same way I did before.”
    Maybe take it a bit further and tell her that you think they’re being @$$#0£€s.

  72. Office Drone*

    Someone should really talk to Steve about ending his lunchtime “thought experiments.” As a thought experiment, if I had to choose anyone in that room to give a permanent cold shoulder to, it would be the guy who thinks it’s entertaining to quiz coworkers about which they find preferable: death or destruction.

  73. JP*

    I feel for Carrie. I’m an introvert, I’m task-focused, and I’m not neurotypical. While I do just fine with socializing and being “on” if I have to (and my coworkers from all of my past jobs have described me as hilarious and witty, though my humor can be quite dry), I prefer to be like Carrie at work. And right now, I’m struggling (and therefore actively looking for a new job) since my employer mandated that local employees only (half our team is remote in other states or many miles away in the same state) have to work in a shared co-working space that is chaotic and loud and not conducive to work, at least the kind that I do. So I usually hide away in the quietest corner with noise-canceling headphones on so I can try to get through my crazy workload that only I can do (I’m an individual contributor anyway and do little collaboration with our in-house team). It leaves me especially not in the mood to shoot the breeze and I prefer just eating my lunch while working so I can get out of there sooner (the loud music constantly playing over the speakers usually gives me a migraine by early afternoon). And I know it’s impacted both my review (because I no longer fit into this new culture that only half the staff have to abide by) and my sense of belonging.

  74. Fluffy Fish*

    OP – In addition to speaking up, there’s a lot of power in saying “I should have said something before now” because someone should have. This isn’t me trying to assign some kind of blame to you – there’s power in acknowledging that you’ve been going along with it by your silence and you shouldn’t have been.

    It makes it harder for the others to turn it back on you (you didn’t have a problem before now). It also puts directly in their face that this has been going on a while. That makes it harder to claim they didn’t mean it like that or didn’t realize it was a big deal.

    And I hope for Carrie’s sake you might make an effort to make friendly overtures. Stop by her desk to say hello every now and again. Ask her how her weekend was. When someone feels “other” its hard for them to do it. I strongly suspect Carrie was already made to feel unwelcome, and this incident has just made people feel empowered to be overt about it.

  75. Raven Mistress*

    This is middle-school mean-kid stuff which is already escalating to the point that it’s influencing how employees relate to a colleague – so yes, it’s probably time to escalate it to the manager. This can’t be the first time that this peculiar blend of toxicity and immaturity has shown itself at work, but it’s up to management to do what they can to ensure that it’s the last time. Meanwhile, the advice to be warmly supportive of Carrie and go out of your way to show her that YOU’RE not one of the mean kids is excellent!

  76. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

    This is making me have flash backs to a class on Briggs Meyers that I took for work. We had to do several in class activities including deciding who among got to be in a life boat on a hypothetically sinking ship. I can’t unlearn how many coworkers chose to let the hypothetical little girl drown because “she’d be no help in the life boat”. I still have to answer emails and politely greet them in the hallways. That’s just basic Adulting 101.

    1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      OK but also realise that this is an abstract puzzle they were asked to consider, and they very, very, very likely wouldn’t throw a girl overboard in a real life situation. They were asked to intellectualise it as a puzzle and they were in a work context so they treated it accordingly.

    2. metadata minion*

      Having to answer hypotheticals about which person they would let drown seems like a terrible idea in a work context.

      For me, I’m not sure why a child’s life is worth more than an adult’s if we’re being forced to rank them. In that situation I think I would also prioritize the people who could keep the remaining survivors alive. In an actual situation, I would desperately try to find alternate solutions not posed in a clean smug little hypothetical. Is the capacity of the lifeboat actually so narrow that it can’t fit another kid? Can people take turns swimming off the side? Does anything else in the vicinity float? Etc. But no, we must rank human lives instead of being human.

  77. home*

    I hadn’t heard of either thought exercise before this letter (“Mary’s Room” or “Immortality Pill”) and after reading the Mary’s Room one in particular: that was the stupidest [redacted] thing I ever read. I think we all got slightly dumber after being exposed to it. So right there, I am Team Carrie forever.

  78. Everybody needs an edirot*

    Kind of off-topic but I really don’t understand the “Mary’s Room” thought experiment. Wouldn’t she have noticed that her body was different colors other than black and white? (and this kind of question is why nobody invites me to their thought experiments.)

    1. Modesty Poncho*

      maybe Mary is an AI in a robot body. How does THAT affect the question? (No, but seriously. Because the whole question is about coming to understand intellectually vs some higher human capability of experience.)

  79. Friday Person*

    Comment section (correctly): Yikes, people are ganging up to make ridiculously unfair judgments about Carrie en masse just because she approached a discussion from an angle people didn’t like.

    Comment section, not pausing for breath: Wow, I personally hate those kinds of thought experiments. If Steve likes them, he must be annoying and pretentious.

    1. Friday Person*

      (To be clear, Steve’s subsequent behavior here does not seem great, but people are allowed to like or dislike theoretical questions without it being a deep reflection of their character!)

    2. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      It’s not just the fact he asks the questions that make people say he’s insufferable.

      It’s the combination of asking coworkers these questions regularly at work, the example of the question given here, the way he (and others) reacted to Carrie’s answer, and the experiences that many of us have had with this type of person.

      I love philosophical questions and puzzles! I also think Steve sounds very tedious.

  80. Looper*

    Seems like Carrie had the right idea all along to not socialize with your coworkers. Any chance that Carrie at one time did take lunch in the conference room and endured one too many freeze-outs by these bullies? Steve especially sounds like a real winner.

  81. Js*

    No wonder she never lunches with you all. I’d much rather spend my lunch away from people like this vs. getting into weird discussions with them.

    And their reaction to her response reflects badly upon them, not her.

    For lots of people, work is just work and that’s ok.

  82. Llama doctor*

    As a manager, I’d want to know about this. So far as how to handle Steve, how about everyone stop discussing these junior high/HS “thought questions?”

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      The “thought questions” are not really the issue. It’s how everybody else behaves around the responses that is the issue.

      Honestly, the question could have been “Did you watch…last night?” and if everybody else says “yes” but one person says “no” and then attacks them for that, we would be in the same situation. It doesn’t matter what the question is; it’s just that Carrie answered in a way that allows everyone else to feel superior to her. Putting an end to the questions just means that everyone else will have to find an excuse for treating Carrie in a very shitty way.

      FWIW, I don’t feel that the name “Carrie” was chosen by accident. If you read On Writing by Stephen King and see what he says about the two real-life inspirations for his debut novel of the same name, this is really not that far off. People can, and often do, treat other people in really shitty ways just to feel better about themselves. It’s sad, but it’s true.

      1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

        Totally agree the question itself isn’t the main issue. However there is something particularly annoying about someone asking everyone to do a thought experiment if you’re going to behave that way, because by its very nature it is supposed to throw up difficult areas of disagreement.

  83. SnappinTerrapin*

    You work with a herd of jacks and jennies.

    Do what you can to support Carrie, but don’t expect too much from the herd. They are what they choose to be.

  84. DeeDee*

    Somehow, it seems like all these co-workers have time traveled back into Junior High.

  85. Moonstone*

    I am pretty appalled at the behavior of your coworkers LW. Carrie seems to be introverted and there is nothing wrong with that. That basically your entire office has decided she’s a monster for choosing the plays – which I probably would have chosen as well! – doesn’t speak well for any of them. Please, be better than them, treat her normally, and tell them to stop acting like little kids. Such shades of Mean Girls and middle school and it’s all ridiculous. If this is how they normally act then it’s really not surprising that Carrie has kept her distance; I can’t blame her and would do the same.

  86. Manglement Survivor*

    Having once worked in a very dysfunctional office where they were always bullies and people being ostracized, I implore you, OP, to speak up for Carrie. Tell the group at lunch that because they don’t agree with her answer to a hypothetical situation, that does not give them cause to bully her and be cruel. And then tell your bosses what’s going on.

  87. nnn*

    Missed opportunity for the true interesting discussion that would stem from this thought experiment:

    If the complete works of Shakespeare disappeared from the face of the earth, how much of them could we reconstruct from all the references in other media? What would they get right and get wrong? Are there any aspects that don’t have any references in other media?

  88. Exile*

    Potentially what is also being taken as “chilliness” from Carrie is nervousness and being uncomfortable in social settings to begin with. I’m quite sure my behaviour has been and continues to be taken the same way at times in jobs I’ve had. After over 5yrs in this current company I still don’t and wouldn’t seek out others to sit and chat with during lunch, main reason being I get nervous and just don’t say anything as don’t want to say something that seems stupid. I can do just enough for the minute or two if a queue at coffee machine but that is about it. If Carrie is as similar to me as I think she may be, she has probably relaxed to the point during the lunch that has felt comfortable enough to raise her head above the parapet. Expressed an opinion, noticed the reactions, and is now stressing and internally overthinking how she worded things/ shouldn’t have said anything. Which is made all the worse by the gossiping, all of which she will be fully aware of.

  89. All Outrage, All The Time*

    I can see why Carrie prefers not to eat in the lunch room. Your workplace sounds toxic and everyone is now giving each other permission to openly ostracise someone who, in their opinion, is not part of the herd. Stand up for Carrie. Shut down this nonsense. Steve is a clown. Don’t participate and ask people to stop escalating and trash talking. This is becoming Lord of the Flies.

  90. CountryLass*

    I’m with Carrie… Now, if it was someone I knew (and liked) who would die, that might change my answer. But an entire series of work that covers many types of human emotion, over ONE life that has no impact on me or my life? Yes, it’s selfish and cold-hearted, I accept I have those parts to my personality.

    Just for giggles I’d also point out that Shakespeare and his work have been a very important party of history, culture and communication, what would happen to the world if they had never been written? and if they said that they all just vanished *snap* now, point out that there are entire studies and doctoral thesis (thesi? Thesises) about it, I’m fairly sure they have studied them enough that they can re-write them, making the whole point moot…

  91. Iris*

    Been there, almost the exact same situation… I was a Carrie at my old job. The bullying escalated and I ended up having a mental breakdown.
    You’re a good person, OP for noticing this is wrong – please speak up, because it WILL get worse.

  92. Sue Wilson*

    The only thing here I see as really bullying is the lunchtime reinforcement. That needs to stop and is really unkind. Avoiding the more personal forms of communication, but still communicating? People get to make that decision for themselves, just like you get to judge them for it. They get to decide the consequences of a professional but not familiar relationship with Carrie is worth it.

    I would however try to interrupt the flow of Carrie hate at lunch before it gets going. This can be extremely effective if your co-workers aren’t entrenched assholes or there isn’t some actual organization about it, and it’s egging each other on. If there’s organization or they’re very entrenched, you get the knowledge that this is your environment and act accordingly.

    Full disclosure, I do have a problem with people who see art as worth more than the human life, random or no, and would not see Carrie as favorably as I did before if it really were just about the art (and I am neurodivergent and have been a Carrie before) but I don’t think that should have anything to do with working with her and I agree with Alison that this was mostly just a reason people are giving for wanting to do what they wanted to do anyway.

  93. Raida*

    “The next day at lunch, Steve expressed relief the IT update was over so Carrie would stay away. Many chimed in with their agreement.
    Unfortunately, every day at lunch since at least one person will bring up Carrie’s response to the question and how freaked out they were by it and that will prompt a prolonged discussion about the weirdness and how people don’t want to be around her and how she’s always been “off.””

    “And that’s when I said that this is a lunchroom, not a ‘bitch about the person that isn’t in the room’ and we’re going to stop this sniping or I’m required by [policy] to tell HR. Nobody wants that, right? Great. Let’s all just not be arseholes to the only person not in the room and get on with our lives instead of retreading something that made you uncomfortable.”

    But then, I’m a total bastard and *likely* to have responded to these thought experiments with ewwww answers in the past, so I’m so ready to tell them all to stfu.
    I’d be close to asking “What do you talk about when I’m not here? I know you didn’t agree when I said I’d eat my leg instead of my arm, do you think I’m a freak and a weirdo?” to make a point, but a HR warning is the fair and reasonable first step – “Hey guys, stfu because [consequence] if not, we should al know this”

Comments are closed.