What is your greatest fear? Perhaps this is quite perplexing for you to answer. Not because you are struggling to think of something you are fearful about. Instead your struggle might be more with trying to make a singular choice. What comes to mind for many of us is the “fear of public speaking”. That is certainly a well-known and understandable fear. The sheer thought of speaking publicly, no matter how small or big the audience, can elicit fear-inspired symptoms like a rapid heart beat, strained breathing, dry mouth and sweaty palms. These symptoms can occur just by thinking, let alone doing, the act of speaking in public! We all recognize that this person is afraid.
What we don’t as closely examine is what that person is actually afraid of in that moment. What is that fear all about? That fear is about something that affects us all. It is about being ‘different’. More specifically, it is about being perceived by others as being different from themselves.
This idea of ‘difference’ is one that threatens the status quo and therefore sets us apart from others. We know that being ‘different’ can make life difficult. Many parents know this particularly at the beginning of each school year. For example, much time is spent choosing first day back-to-school wardrobes just so kids ‘fit in’ with their peers. No parent wants their kid to purposefully stand out in the crowd on the first few days of a new school year. The key motivation is to fly under the radar and avoid being negatively labelled by others.
To be seen as different is to be vulnerable to social isolation and disconnection. Being the social animals that we are makes being labelled as ‘different’ very threatening to our sense of well-being. We flourish when our basic need to belong is fulfilled and struggle painfully when this need is challenged..
For example, something as simple as a new haircut can lead to either upholding the status quo or jeopardizing the social standing should the haircut be seen as ‘too different”. In this case, a little bit of difference is tolerable – but being viewed as too different is not.
So what happens when you decide for a myriad of reasons to adopt a whole plant-based lifestyle (aka ‘vegan’)? This will definitely be different and for many “too different”. What does a self-identifying vegan, Portia de Rossi say about this difference?
In 2011, Portia de Rossi, who is married to talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, found that people seem more uncomfortable around vegans than gay people. “Listen, I think it’s more difficult to be vegan than gay,” Portia de Rossi says in the interview. “I think people have a harder time accepting it; people feel more uncomfortable with a vegan at their dinner table than they do a lesbian. It’s confronting. It’s kind of suggesting that what someone else is doing is bad or wrong, and it hits them on a more personal level.”
Even if you’ve never tried to ‘convert’ your family, friends, or co-workers to veganism, they may feel judged by you. Portia de Rossi says, “…If somebody is sitting there eating a steak watching you eat polenta, they’re thinking that you’re trying to preach to them or you’re trying to convert them in some way. Whereas with being gay, I don’t think anyone’s concerned that that’s the agenda.” (sheknows.com, July, 2011).
Certainly, seven years later, plant-based foods are becoming more common place – however, the difficulty with this difference still requires some effort to overcome. Let’s consider some strategies you may want to incorporate in your life so you do not jeopardize your commitment to better health. It is possible to keep your commitments and your connections:
- Recognize this is your choice and you are doing this for your sake not anyone else’s – you are responsible for your own health – no one else!
- Own your difference – let others know that what you are doing is different – no need to argue as agreement shuts down others more quickly that protesting or minimizing it
- Use assertive communication techniques like the “broken record” to stand your ground in a calm, respectful manner – for example, listen and repeat what you heard the speaker say and then add the same phrase at the end of each reflection: “and I am going to eat this way for now” (that is the broken record part)
- Another assertive technique is to use “negative enquiry”. This is used to find out more about critical comments and is an effective alternative to responding with aggression or anger to criticism from others. This helps to receive criticism in a calm manner, remembering that any criticism received is just somebody’s opinion (not an issue of right or wrong). For example, “I understand you think this is a foolish way to eat and is there anything else you are concerned about/” Often this type of response calms down the sender of the message and he/she soon runs out of criticisms to share with you.
- Make a request for support aka ‘acceptance’ from others. Asking others to support or accept your current choices does not mean you are asking them to agree or approve of your actions. Instead, it means honouring your free will to make decisions for yourself without casting judgement or making derogatory comments. Remember – support goes both ways – he/she may need your support for their choices in the future.
- Use your noticing skills to observe and then predict possible challenges you may be facing in any given social situation and then create a pro-active plan. For example, you are invited to a family holiday meal and can likely predict what will be served for dinner. Bring an ‘add-on’ dish to share and eat because you know that what will be served will not suite your dietary preferences.
Being different while certainly difficult at times is still well worth it. When you truly follow your health belief system, optimize your health as much as possible and remain connected to those that matter – it is a winning combination of being happy and free!!