Thursday, April 11, 2013

Learning to be passionate without offending: A Journey

Yesterday, Mama Hayes and I were out and about, doing cool stuff like we do, and we had a fantastic chat about how to share our beliefs without peeving people off.

Rewind ten years ago. I was in third year university and easily combustible (I am now only at medium combustion level). This passionate, quick to defend, argue and confront (and get offended) was the result of my discovery about what my core belief systems were and the shock and despair that others I trusted and valued did not feel the same as me.

I thought that if I just explained sufficiently others would see my (obviously correct) way of thinking. Instead these "discussions" spiraled into arguments that resulted more often in not in me getting upset and feeling ridiculous. My breaking point was in 2005 where my at the time boyfriend's roommates started baiting me on purpose with misogynistic comments or strategically placed articles on the fridge since my anger was such a sure entertainment.

I gave up completely trying to change people's minds. I avoided all IRL discussions about feminism, climate change, politics and religion beyond to state how I felt. At one point I remember an audiologist asking me if as a pagan I "believed in the sun and shit". It was offensive and I wasn't ready to share something so personal with someone I knew would be condescending. I told him I didn't want to talk about it- which felt a bit cowardly.

Neither was this hiding productive. The "EcoYogini" blog has helped bring a measure of balance here, where in this space I get to write and share what I am passionate about with a (99% of the time) fantastic readership and commenting peeps.

I have realized that I can still stay true to what my beliefs are without impinging them on others. Yes, I am disappointed that many still believe that feminism is either wrong or no longer necessary. That our environment and planet isn't in dire needs of protection and our lifestyles needn't change.

I can also recognize, however, that I don't like being made to feel a) stupid or b) guilty. I can understand why sometimes it's hard to make changes, and who am I to know what another person experiences in their daily life?

Half the time when someone comments in a defensive way on my blog (or on something I post on facebook) it's because I have implied that what they are doing or believe in is 1) wrong or 2) harmful. Many people are essentially good (I believe this in any case) and don't go out to abuse other people (feminism topics) or ruin the health of their family and planet.

Empathy means a really pragmatic dose of putting yourself in someone else's shoes (to a certain limit) without judgement.

For example, I no longer am offended when someone tells me they are praying for my soul. If I believed that only souls who are saved will experience "Heaven" and all others will suffer, I would find it extremely distressing that someone I cared about was going to suffer in the afterlife. Praying for me doesn't harm me, or impinge on my belief in the Goddess.

So. Back to how should we share what we are passionate about without offending? Social media is a funny place- it's difficult to gage reactions, to control how information is taken and to immediately clarify. People will get offended, and if you care about them, apologizing for offending is always a good step. We don't do that enough.

And perhaps it's useful to recognize when it makes sense to respond and when it makes sense to let it go. Not everyone needs to think exactly as I do. Not everyone should practice yoga. It's ok. We all have different and valuable perspectives to bring to our relationships.

It's insulting and demeaning to the other person to assume that they don't feel or think the same way you do because they simply lack certain knowledge or education.

(In the end, if a person is being particularly offending on facebook, trolling you, you can always simply click the "unfriend" button. Are they worth the drama in your life?)


  1. This is generally not an issue I deal with being a private person when it comes to this stuff--but there certainly have been times! I witness it a lot with my atheist hubby and his evangical family though.

    I can't believe someone actually said "believed in the sun and shit". Arugh.

    1. haha yeah. at the time it was annoying, because a) it was kinda out of the blue and unexpected topic suggestion and b) i was driving said person from the airport so literally had no escape...

  2. I think healthy debate is like a good karate match--irreducibly confrontational, but constrained by strict rules of fair play, informal rules of good taste and manners, and undertaken with the expectation of (eventual) mutual benefit. To change the metaphor, ideas are like chemicals in that they sometimes create light, heat, and noise when they react with each other. Sometimes this is productive, sometimes it's pointless, wasteful, or even dangerous.
    If you don't want to share personal beliefs with (obviously ill-mannered) skeptics, why make them public at all? For example, I believe that the afterlife is most likely some kind of networked ancestor simulation and that Big G "God" (or "Goddess"--I ain't fussy) is likely some kind of spontaneous order that emerges from it in an extremely complicated temporal way. However, I don't think that I have an inalienable right to hold such a belief publicly without ever explaining or defending it, so I don't often bring it up in conversation or ever use it as a badge of distinction or belonging. If someone said to me, "So basically you think we're a bunch of monkeys who'll be resurrected by other, more advanced monkeys in a big MMORPG at the End of Time," I would probably laugh, because most people's dearly held beliefs sound pretty ridiculous to just about everyone who doesn't believe the exact same thing.

    1. This totally fits what I remember our discussions were like back at STU :)
      I agree with you that it is possible to have discussions without it spiralling out of control- for the most part I think you touched on the crux of the issue though when you mentioned your spiritual beliefs: you rarely bring them up in public. This is because they are important to you and something you strongly believe in.
      I feel (and it's just my own experience of course) that non-confrontation, unemotional and not at risk for becoming offensive, arguments tend to be for things that do not affect our core values.
      As soon as you bring in a topic that you feel very strongly about it becomes extremely challenging to stick to the rules, to not become emotionally invested, to not become defensive. Because that other person is essentially attacking YOU.

      I agree, it's important to let things go when people are purposefully offensive (like your MMORPG example), and for the most part, for people who aren't close to you it's fine. It's those that we care about that it takes more patience and empathy.

  3. Yay for discussing blogging issues in real life and then blogging about them! But I wonder about the offending part - sometimes I feel I shouldn't apologize for offending someone because there is a good reason they are offended. Their offense might propel them into change because they had such a strong adverse reaction to what I said, they start examining it. I worry that by apologizing we diminsih our stance and our belief in what we wrote or said.

    That's what I think I struggle with most.

    Maybe offending others is just what I wanted to do?

    Merp. I'm still not sure although I think you brought up some good ways of writing about it in a way that avoids calling them stupid and recognizing barriers to that knowledge.

    Tricky tricky!

    1. totally tricky!
      honestly, i don't want to offend anyone that I care about, I would like to think that I can encourage change by doing as opposed to offending and that there are more productive ways to encourage change (that are positive as opposed to negative). So I'm very much ok with apologizing regarding the perceived intent to offend, and not for my opinions.
      (ie "I'm sorry if I offended you, it was not my intention. I do strongly believe in________ but can recognize that others have differing opinions"). This is my route when someone I know becomes confrontational.
      Once you hit defensive I don't really believe there is a lot of room for productive discussion at that time.

      that said- sometimes people are offended that I didn't know- it's hard to control how others perceive your writing. I'd say it's a case by case :) (and yes VERY tricky!)

    2. That's a good way of putting it! I didn't mean going out guns blazing calling everyone an asshole! Just looking for a way to be true to your intentions without compromising. So that response makes sense! Thanks Lisa.

  4. Comment that wouldn't post from my friend M (she sent it via facebook):
    I really appreciated what you wrote. I am finding "ego and the internet" very challenging this week. I follow a daily Taoist meditation and your writing reminded me of this.. and it is taking the edge off of this week a bit. I can't post so I thought I would share. M
    Your Donkey
    Dismount your donkey at the summit.
    Some places in this world are very hard to climb, and people use animals. Each person can only ride one, and each animal might have a different name. The riders go up the trail in different orders, and they discuss their varying opinions about their experiences. They may even have conflicting opinions: One traveler may think the trip thrilling, another may find it terrifying, and a third may find it banal.
    At the summit all the travelers stand in the same place. Each of them has the same chance to view the same vistas. The donkeys are put to rest and graze; they are not needed anymore.
    We all travel the path of Tao. The donkeys are the various doctrines that each of us embraces. What does it matter which doctrine we embrace as long as it leads us to the summit? Your donkey might be a Zen donkey, mine might be a Tao donkey. There are Christian, Islamic, Jewish, and even Agnostic donkeys. All lead to the same place. Why poke fun at others over the name of their donkey? Aren't you riding one yourself?
    We should put aside both the donkeys and our interim experiences once we arrive at the summit. Whether we climbed in suffering or joy is immaterial; we are there. All religions have different names for the ways of getting to the holy summit. Once we reach the summit, we no longer need names, and we can experience all things directly.

    1. thank you M!
      This piece of writing is beautiful :)

  5. I've been thinking about this a lot, lately. I think that we all have certain fears that we're going to lose what we value or that other people's lack of value in what we value will somehow undermine the quality of our lives... Something like that! LOL. We ALL feel this, in some form or another. I try to think of that whenever I hear someone try to start a fight about fundamentalist Christianity or the "nonsense" of gun control or anti-abortion views, etc. It makes me realize they're just afraid that they won't live in the world they want to live in - just like I'm scared that people who don't value the earth will negatively affect my life, and my world. (Does that make sense?)

    The point is: It makes it easier for me to breathe deeply and relax and try not to take it so seriously.

  6. It is a long journey that I completely understand! One of my close friends in high school and I would often argue about tossing garbage out the car window. We had agreed that he wouldn't do it in front of me. One day with the "take that" face he tossed all of his MacDonalds garbage out the window and on the ground in the parking lot. Enraged, I threw it back in his face, then we were chest to chest with fists clenched almost in a fight that I would have surely lost but I wouldn't back down. When he stepped away from me, I screamed a few more profanities and did not speak to him for over a year despite his attempts at reconciliation. We mended the wounds but our friendship was never the same and we have since lost touch.

    This type of "discussion" is definitely not productive but having discussions about issues that don't get heated or offensive are important not only for your own personal growth but stimulates ideas and perhaps even change in others too. It is a hard balance especially when you believe strongly in something but one thing I have learned is that alcohol NEVER helps. Learning to be patient and open is a skill that needs to be honed and sometimes it can slip especially if you have had a few. It is a journey that we will be on for the rest of our lives but there is so much that we can learn from others that it is a necessary journey.

  7. great post. Can totally relate - especially the change since uni lol!


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