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Since the election, I’ve been writing and writing and writing. It’s what I do when I feel overwhelmed, when I feel like I have a lot to talk about but am not sure how to speak it aloud. I’ve been writing blog posts, then re-reading them and thinking, I don’t know if I should share this. I don’t want to offend people. And, even worse, I’ve been thinking, Maybe I shouldn’t share this because they might not like me after they read it. (Ugh, that ego!)
Like many people around the country (and the world), I’ve been torn between two sides of myself — the one who wants to focus on the positive, keep the peace, and maintain my loyal following of readers, and the one who wants to use my blog for change, shake things up, and finally open up about controversial topics.
For the past two weeks, there’s been a war raging in my head between these two sides. Over the past few days, there’s been a new voice piping up, a slightly more rational, less-ego-driven voice, asking things like, Is there a way to be positive and share your beliefs? Is there a way to voice your opinion and still keep the peace? Is there a way to talk to people — especially those with opposing views — and not fight?
The answers to these questions are situational. If you’re dealing with someone who is violent, judgmental, or narrow-minded, you’re going to have a hard time discussing tough topics (politics, religion, sexuality, race, etc.) with him or her. However, if you can find people who are open-minded and willing to listen and talk about contentious issues, I do believe it’s possible to share your beliefs in positive ways. Will the peace always be kept? Probably not. Will conversations be completely fight-free? I can’t guarantee it.
What I can guarantee is that you’ll feel a lot better when you speak up for what you believe in. I know it’s hard. I know it’s scary. And I know that, if you’re surrounded by a lot of people who don’t share your beliefs, it can be intimidating. But, over the past few weeks, I’ve come to realize that one of the worst things you can do is be silent. You don’t have to agree with everyone — and not everyone has to agree with you — but silencing yourself is an act of self-hate, shame, and fear. And you deserve better than that. We all do.
Okay, so, you’ve got some beliefs. You’re feeling brave (and safe) enough to share them. How do you go about doing it without putting other people off? How do you do it in a way that might actually make a difference? I’ve been thinking (and reading) a lot about this — and practicing it my own life (many people close to me voted for the candidate I vehemently opposed and I’ve had many productive, positive conversations with them since the election) — and here are some of the best ideas I’ve found for talking about your beliefs with people who don’t share them.
KNOW WHAT YOU BELIEVE.
It might sound obvious, but a lot people aren’t actually certain about what they believe. Many people flip-flop on certain issues, have beliefs based on one-off op-ed pieces (rather than real facts), or base their beliefs on those held by the people surrounding them. Before getting into any serious discussion (especially with people with opposing views), do your research — both the fact checking and the soul-searching kind. Carefully consider the issue, taking stock of what you know and what you might not know.
Just as importantly, consider how you feel really about it. It's incredibly tempting to jump onto the bandwagons, to join groups, and to identify with the labels, but remember: you are complex human being with unique experiences, insights, and ideas. We all want to belong, but think carefully about what beliefs you align yourself with. Before declaring, “I’m a _______________________,” or “I believe in _______________________,” ask yourself if that’s 100% true. It may very well be true, but it’s important to check in with yourself and make sure that you — not your peers, not your family, not a portion of society you aspire to be like — do, in fact, hold these beliefs.
Also, it’s important to keep checking in with yourself periodically to see if you still hold the beliefs. We are ever evolving, changing creatures and what you believe at one point in your life will not be what you believe later. Because sometimes we get lazy, we might cling to beliefs we’ve had for a long time because we think we still believe them, not because we actually do.
SCRUTINIZE YOUR SOURCES.
It is so very, very important to check your sources, and then check them again. So many people hold — and speak about — beliefs not based on facts. With the incredible rise of the Internet, you’re able to read this article and countless other things that literally anyone can post online. Sometimes this is amazing — different viewpoints! unique perspectives! — and sometimes this is just insane — fake news sites created just to get clicks, opinion pieces skewed with untrue claims, etc.
Not only is important to make sure the facts you have are, indeed, facts, but it’s important to be aware of how greatly biased the Internet is. A recent Fast Company article made me see this more clearly than ever. The Internet, as the article states, helps us take sides. We’re encouraged — by the sheer nature of how the Internet is set up — to cultivate either/or mindsets.
Every day we are given a choice to pick one thing or the other: like or dislike this post, agree or disagree with that article. Social media, while it does allow for comments and more lengthy explorations into "gray" territories, often encourages us to choose one thing over the other, usually in a yes-or-no, black-or-white dichotomy.
And here’s the scariest part: what we choose is constantly reinforced with algorithms designed to personalize our content. We are given more content that aligns with what we like, less that showcases what we don’t like. Most of us don’t actively realize this, so it starts to seem like everyone and everything supports our views.
Unlike in the old days, when people all saw the same images on TV and then disagreed or agreed with those images, we’re now shown images that support the ideas we’ve told the Internet we like. What we see online is meant to appeal to us — which can definitely be nice sometimes — but, as the Fast Company article argues, this is creating little individual bubbles where we’re all seeing the things we want to see, having our beliefs and preferences reinforced (often without even seeing information from the other side).
When you pause and think about this for a moment, it’s pretty crazy how much power the Internet has over what we see and think — and it’s pretty important to keep in mind as you’re gathering data and information to support your beliefs (or counter someone else’s). Do your best to go out of your way to find new sources, to find unbiased articles, to even reach out to those who hold opposing views and ask them for their thoughts.
Bonus Tip: When discussing tough topics (or having hard conversations in general), it’s useful to focus more on “I” than “you.” For example, “Based on what I’ve read, I believe…” or “What I’m hearing you say is…”
CHANNEL YOUR COURAGE.
Speaking up about the things you believe in can be extremely challenging sometimes, particularly if you’re speaking to someone who doesn’t share your perspective, but having courage is so important. It’s something I’ve personally struggled with a great deal, especially here on Positively Present. Because what I do and say must reflect my brand, I often feel restricted in what I can and cannot write about, and it pains me to have to withhold some of my beliefs and insights.
I have been afraid to talk about a lot of things because I’ve been afraid of people disliking what I have to say. I’ve been afraid of alienating readers. I’ve been afraid of, pathetic as this is to say, people being mean to me.
Here are some topics that matter a great deal to me, but that I never write about because I’m scared people will judge me, stop reading my work, or be hostile to me: feminism, agnostic atheism, sexuality, choosing not to marry or have children, money, and the list goes on. Most of these are things we're taught, from a young age, not to talk about because it's rude, which makes it more difficult to speak up about them as an adult. In addition, because what I write about is directly tied to my income, it’s even more difficult for me to write about things that might offend readers. My livelihood literally depends on the words I write.
But here’s the thing: if you believe in something, you should talk about it.
There’s obviously a right and wrong way to do this. The initial post-election articles I wrote for myself — filled with quite a bit of sadness, pain, and some pretty aggressive feminism that I’m pretty sure the average reader would be overwhelmed by — were not the best way to go about it. Some people might have responded well to those articles, but the negativity, anger, and in-your-face language used to evoke strong emotions would likely have shocked many people.
Now that a little time has passed, I’m able to think a bit more clearly and realize that what we need now is not more anger and negativity. What we need now is someone who is brave enough to speak her mind, but thoughtful enough to do it in a way that (hopefully) won’t offend or alienate her audience.
In the future, I do plan to tackle some of these topics that I’ve been afraid to touch — especially those related to feminism and gender, which I studied in graduate school and feel particularly passionate aboute — but I’m hoping to find a way to do this bravely but gently. I know longer want to place arbitrary restrictions on what topics I will or won’t tackle, but, unlike the day-after-election Dani, I know it’s not right to take this site — a curated place of positivity, awareness, and self-love — and turn it into my personal feminist soapbox…
BE CLEAR AND HONEST.
…which leads me to my next point! When it comes to talking about difficult topics or beliefs, one thing most of us don’t do often enough is begin the conversation by being clear and honest. Too often, we are driven by strong emotions and triggered by the words of someone else rather that striving to be levelheaded and thoughtful in what we say and do. I know this is much easier said than done, but imagine what it would be like if you opened up a conversation like this:
“Hey, I know we have totally different views on this issue, but I’d really like to talk about it. I’m going to do my best to share my point of view calmly, and to listen and keep an open mind to what you have to say. I know neither of us will probably change our minds on this issue, but I think it’s important enough that we should talk about it.”
When starting a conversation with someone of a different political background or belief, it can be helpful to make it clear that you’re not necessarily trying to change his or her mind. One of the reasons we have such heated debates about politics is because it often feels like the opposing side is saying, “You’re wrong. Here’s why.”
Or, if you are trying to change someone’s mind, what if you were honest about it? You could say something like, “You know I feel really passionately about this topic. It’s very important to me, and I’d really love it if I could change your mind about it so that you could see it the way I do. I know that might not be possible, but would you be willing to listen to what I have to say? After I share my thoughts, I’ll be more than happy to listen to your point of view too.”
The key takeaway from this point is this: you’re never going to transform someone else’s mindset through trickery, bullying, or manipulation. (Okay, you might be able to, but is that the kind “win” you want?) You’ll get a lot farther — and probably have a more positive conversation — if you’re honest and clear about what you want to talk about and what your end goal for the conversation is.
SPEAK WITH COMPASSION.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote Campaigning for Compassion: 8 Essential Tips We Need Now, which is a must-read if you’re going to be talking about any tough topics with people who have opposing viewpoints. Compassion is a word we hear often, but its actual definition isn’t always clear. Compassion is about recognizing another's pain and desiring to alleviate it in some way (regardless of whether or not you agree with that person's beliefs).
When you’re passionate about a topic, it can be hard to channel compassion in the way you speak and react, but it’s important to do so — not only for the other person’s benefit, but for your own mental state as well.
For the most part, I see a lot of compassion from the people I follow online (and from the people who follow me), but the day after the election, I saw a lack of compassion that was, quite frankly, astounding to me. On Instagram, someone wrote to me, “Your positivity sickens me.” The person who wrote this was a young girl. It broke my heart to read that comment, to see how society taught her that, in order for progress to occur, we must be negative.
On the contrary, we need optimism. And, just as importantly, we need compassion — especially for those who display aggressive, angry, and hateful behavior. Without compassion, we’ll never be able to find our way in this shadowy, complex jungle of political discourse. Compassion is our flashlight in the dark. It, alone, is not going to get us from point A to point B, but it sure as hell is going to make the path easier to see.
As I wrote in my article on compassion, defending what you believe and having compassion for those who think differently are not mutually exclusive. You can be passionate and compassionate. Remember this when you’re speaking with someone who has completely different views and you’re struggling with compassion. (Also, try your best to go into the conversation with a compassionate mindset!)
LISTEN – REALLY LISTEN.
Listening isn’t just about opening your ears to the sounds coming from someone else’s mouth. It’s also about paying attention to body language, tone, facial expression. It’s also about looking past the words and considering what someone might actually mean, instead of just focusing on what they’re saying. Often, below the surface, it's clear that "I voted for ______________" really means "______________ is really important to me and that candidate really seems to represent that."
Will it be challenging to listen to other people talk passionately about what they believe in when it’s completely different from what you believe? You bet. But, if you want people to be tolerant and accepting of your views, you have to show others the same courteousness. If you want people to listen to you, you must listen to them. And when I say really listen, I mean it. It’s so tempting to assume you know what someone is going to say or to take a stand on it before it’s even been said, but don't allow yourself to make assumptions. Listen with your ears, watch with your eyes, and pay attention with your mind.
Also, even if others' beliefs might sound crazy to you, don’t punish them for their honesty. Never forget that listening isn’t just about opening your ears — it’s about opening your mind as well. The point of talking about difficult issues with someone of differing beliefs is to open the lines of communication.
Not everyone is going to want to have passionate discussions with you, and that’s okay. It may be frustrating not to be able to talk to people about what you want to talk about, but it’s important to respect others’ boundaries. If someone makes it clear that s/he doesn’t want to talk to you about an issue, respect that. (Also, consider finding some people who do want to talk to you.)
Here are some other times you might want to respect boundaries — your own and those of the people around you — and not bring up, or keep talking about, tough topics:
- When the other person is emotionally unready or unwilling to hear what you have to say. You’ve probably seen lots of pictures of people around the country in tears post-election. If you encounter a Hillary supporter curled in a ball sobbing, that’s probably not the time to bring up your list of reasons why Trump deserved to win. This isn’t to say you can’t talk about it at some point, but assess the emotional state of others and determine if it might be better to choose a different time to talk. Also, on a less dramatic scale, consider the general emotional state of yourself and the other person. If you (or s/he) had a terrible, long day at work, maybe it’s not the best time to get into a heated political debate.
- When violent acts might be committed against you. This is not a reason for a whole group to be quiet (if it were, we’d still have horrific institutions like slavery), but in one-on-one situations where you would be in great physical or emotional danger if you were to speak your mind about a certain topic, it’s best to remain quiet until you can find a way to communicate without harm coming to you or someone else. Please be safe when it comes to speaking up.
- When you’ve honestly, openly stated your beliefs with kindness and compassion, and you’re receiving only hatred, judgment, and accusations in return. Some people are just not open to listening and talking. This is sad and it can be painful, but it’s just the way it goes. Once you’ve said what you wanted to say, repeating it over and over (however nicely!) will no longer be productive.
- When a large group of people is ganging up on you. Again, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t speak your mind — I used to do it all the time in college, boldly stating my feminist thoughts in roomfuls of hyper-masculine athletes who, for the most part, had zero interest in feminism, resulting in the lovely nickname "Beliefs" — but sometimes it’s better to speak up when you either (a) have at least one person on your side or (b) can have a one-on-one with individuals of the group, instead of speaking to the group as a whole.
Regardless of what you’re talking about — or who you’re speaking to — it’s very important not only to respect others’ boundaries, but to take care of your own boundaries as well. If you’re unsure about whether or not to keep talking, ask, “Would you like to keep talking about this topic?” If you’ve gotten to a point where your own boundaries are being threatened, say, “I’m glad we were able to start this conversation, but I feel it is no longer productive, and I think we should stop talking about it for now.”
TAKE POSITIVE ACTION.
Actions speak louder than words, they say, and it really is true. You can talk yourself blue in the face about what you believe in, but if you don’t support those words with actions, it’s going to be much less likely that people will take you, and your beliefs, seriously. Here a few ideas for how you can take positive action on your beliefs:
- Donate to a cause that supports what you believe in
- Volunteer for an organization you support
- Share (legitimate, fact-based) information on social media
- Offer to organize an event or fundraiser for a cause
- Watch a film about the topic with someone who opposes it
- Research the issue and consider new ways to offer help
- Give (well-researched) books on issues you support to skeptics
- Vote for the people who support what you believe
- Call Senators / people in Congress and ask for change
- Ask experts on the issues for ideas for how to help
- Join local (or online) groups who share your beliefs
- Read up on what others are saying (and gather facts!)
- Shop at stores that uphold your beliefs (don't know? ask!)
It may seem like this action-taking isn’t a necessary step to talking about what you believe in, but it’s actually essential. Anyone can say they believe in anything, but to really have those beliefs heard (and have them matter), action is necessary. You might also want to see if you can have someone with opposing views take part in the action in some way. Sometimes people don’t realize what they believe until they see a situation for themselves.
Phew. That was quite the long post. If you’ve made it all the way down here, thanks for reading!! I hope these tips and tactics will help you feel confident in sharing your beliefs with those who don’t share them. And don't forget to download the free PDF here to keep these tips in mind as you share your beliefs. I know it’s scary, but if I can do it, you can do! Now, go out there and be brave!