"Distress caused by social stress - often the result of upsetting others because of unusual habits, opinions, or appearances." The Pleasure Trap
I clearly remember being infuriated as I read through the China Study for the first time. Was it true that animal products were causing disease? Was it true that the foods we were eating was causing cancer? If the answer was yes, which I slowly began to believe that it was, then I felt the strong need to "educate" as many people as I could. I went around telling as many people as I could that the foods we were eating were killing us and that they just HAD to read this book I just finished. I was shocked and amazed and then a little hurt that people around me weren't driving to their local bookstore to learn what I had just learned.
That was 2 years ago.
My convictions today are just as strong, if not stronger, than they were two years ago...but my approach to social settings has changed. I am learning that not everyone cares about the things I care about, and not everyone seeks the privilege of having me "educate" them. I have learned that for many different reasons some people feel threatened or defensive when I share my thoughts on food. Perhaps it is my feminine judgment that it not so thinly veiled, or my all-to-willingness-to-share personality that rubs them the wrong way. Perhaps they feel that since meat has lost its status in my eyes, that they, being meat-eaters, have also lost their status in my eyes as well.
I am just barely on the cusp of learning a very valuable lesson: That what I EAT is far less important than how I make people FEEL!
This has not always been the case for me. There was a time when I felt like I had to re-learn everything that I believed about food. I craved more education and I sought out company with people that I could discuss my questions and concerns. I enjoyed conversation with like-minded people (and actually still do) and found a new world of Vegans, Vegetarians and Nutritarians. It was exciting and invigorating to find so many other people that shared my new found beliefs about health and nutrition. It is very easy to believe something when you surround yourself with like-minded individuals/books/doctors/websites!
But something interesting happens as we move in one direction....it sometimes feels like we are moving further away from another direction. And if that is where all my loved ones are (proverbially), then am I sure I am moving in the right direction?
I have come to 2 conclusions. First; I now know for certain that the way I have chosen to eat is the right direction for me! However, I have also learned that there is plenty I can do to bridge any perceived "gaps" between me and the people I care about. By being sensitive to the people around me, there are things that I can say and do to ensure my closeness to them. Rather than implying that I have got all the answers, phrases like "this seems to be working for me" or "this way of eating might not be for everyone, but I sure feel great right now" allow room for lots of different lifestyles. By reading body language and social cues I know when I can share my passion for whole foods or when I need to thoughtfully change the subject to one where they can sense my respect for them. I know that I can act with perfect integrity (to my beliefs) but also suggest that my integrity is imperfect and still a work-in-progress (which it is).
I have come to believe that at the end of the day relationships are more important than anything else. I don't want to be known for what I eat, but for how I make people feel. I would rather quietly eat a hamburger at a neighbors BBQ than boldly declare, "Oh, you didn't know I am a vegetarian?" I am NOT saying that we need to sacrifice our personal beliefs for the benefit of fitting in. There are certain values that I would NEVER give into no matter what the situation. What I am saying is that I am now willing to loosen the reigns a little if it meant strengthening an important relationship. I do believe that humans are more important than animals (yes I actually believe that). I believe that humility can be gentler than conviction. I believe I will have far greater influence when my main objection is not to be heard but simply to love.