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Being the Odd One Out
Iíve read all your advice on how vegans should and can be compassionate toward humans as well as animals, and try to understand where people who disagree with us are coming from. Iím afraid Iím not yet very good at it. Iíve been vegan for over two years and was a vegetarian and animal rights activist for several years before that, so Iím used to being something of the odd one out, but I donít seem to be getting any better at dealing with people who openly express their contempt and disregard for animals.
For example, how should I respond and relate to work colleagues who express their opinions on how all those verminous animals (such as flying foxes, kangaroos, squirrels, pigeons, and deer) should be shot, and anyone who thinks otherwise is stupid and ignorant? What about my uncle who regales the dinner table with his fishing and hunting exploits while my parents keep sending me warning glances not to ďmake troubleĒ? My father who compares vegans to intolerant religious fundamentalists? Or the friend who has become engaged to a butcher and wants me to get along with him? And another friend who recently told me that thereís something very wrong with people who worry about animals while humans are suffering.
If I dare to disagree or say how offensive I find any of this, then any conflict or disharmony that results (and believe me, it usually does) is my fault, because Iím the one whoís out of step with the mainstream. Iím supposed to keep my ďweird opinionsĒ to myself while everyone else is free to broadcast theirs far and wide. Sometimes I feel as though Iím living among aliens and I find myself getting very stressed and avoiding social situations. I realize that these people are not evil and they donít see anything wrong with what theyíre doing. In other situations I love and respect them. But sometimes they leave me feeling so cold and frustrated that Iím afraid Iíll say something that will cause me to lose my job or sour our relationship forever. Do you have any suggestions on how I can express my point of view without creating conflict?
Regardless of the subject, when we are passionate about an issue and others disagree with our point of view, we often feel we are being put on the defensive. The fact is, we put ourselves on the defensive. We choose to remain in a situation that feels hostile or among people who are antagonistic. We allow ourselves to become angry and feel harassed and ďput upon.Ē And we ultimately decide whether or not to debate our beliefs, because an argument cannot succeed without at least two people engaging in it.
No one can make us feel anything. We allow ourselves to feel as we do and we must accept responsibility for those feelings without blaming others. If we believe that others have more control over our emotions than we do, then we indeed are powerless.
As much as we trust that we are right and those who oppose us are wrong, they clearly think the opposite. So we must ask ourselves: What is the point in arguing? Do we believe we can single-handedly redirect their perspectives? Or do we think that by remaining silent we will appear to be in agreement with their outlook?
Effective leaders do not stand at the back of the line and push; they lead by example and inspiration. If you are in a situation where you feel vulnerable, reclaim your strength. If you donít want to remain quiet, express your differences simply and succinctly, without expecting a response or attempting to convince others of your point of view. Then excuse yourself from the gathering and do not attend similar get-togethers in the future. Despite the stir this may cause, it is not of your making. If you feel ďguilty,Ē remember that you are no more responsible for other peopleís emotions than they are for yours. If family, friends, or colleagues want your presence, they need to know that you and your views must be respected. Otherwise, you have the option to not subject yourself to their opinions and comments. Itís always in your hands.
At the same time, take a good look at your feelings. Befriend and try to understand them, rather than suppressing or running away from them. Accept that you are angry. Own up to it and know that it is an emotion you chose to feel. If we truly believe that others cause our anger, we also must believe they are responsible for alleviating it. Such beliefs only serve to make us feel more powerless, dependent, and angry.
We get frustrated and irritated in these types of circumstances because we want something we cannot have-- to mold the world the way we want it. By recognizing that others do not control our behavior, choices, or our points of view, we will ultimately come to accept the inverse: we do not control othersí behavior, choices, or points of view. Each of us is responsible for our own emotions and actions. When this truth penetrates the depth of your heart, you will know how to be free anywhere and at peace with everyone, including yourself.
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