Recently, I received a message from Claudia (a regular reader of this blog) on the Living Differently Facebook page. She had a couple of questions about our lifestyle… and since they’re pretty typical questions, I thought I’d respond to them in a blog post.
Here’s what she wrote:
“Sometimes my husband and I struggle with the decision to take the non-traditional path. How do you deal with criticism and / or jealousy? Many times when we have taken the road less traveled, people around us feel their way of life threatened and start questioning our choices. They are often dear friends of ours, but they feel promoting a different lifestyle is saying something is terribly wrong with the traditional ways. We do not want to lose them and we do not want to hurt them.”
I think the best way for me to respond to this question is to quote a passage from Brené Brown’s book, “Daring Greatly”. Although Brené is talking about child-raising (in the context of this quote)… I actually think it applies to a much broader scope of understanding. Here’s what she says:
“Our need for certainty in an endeavour as uncertain as raising children makes explicit “how-to-parent” strategies both seductive and dangerous. I say “dangerous” because certainty often breeds absolutes, intolerance and judgement. That’s why parents are so critical of one another – we latch on to a method or approach and very quickly our way becomes the way. When we obsess over our parenting choices to the extent that most of us do, and then see someone else making different choices, we often perceive that difference as direct criticism of how we are parenting”.
I actually think that Brené has touched on something much bigger here… than simply the parenting debate. I think that humans… in general… crave certainty. And… I think we crave certainty because it feels good. It feels comforting. It feels secure. If we’re certain about our beliefs… our values… our traditions… our decisions… it provides us with a feeling of security… a sense of being “right”.
And we’re happy in that place. That comfortable place of certainty and knowing… and perceived “rightness”.
But – the problem with certainty… is that it often breeds absolutes, intolerance and judgement.
We don’t only see this within the context of parenting… we see this in the context of religious belief systems, of traditions, of daily choices that people make with their lives. We see it everywhere. “My” way is the “Right” way.
When people are comfortable in their particular certainty… or their decision or choice on how they’ve chosen to live life, what they’ve chosen to believe, how they’ve chosen to parent their children… and so on… all it takes is an annoying family member or friend who steps out of line… and does things DIFFERENTLY… and suddenly, it’s as though every “certainty” and every “absolute” is now being brought into question.
I honesty think that when one takes the road less travelled… in ANY arena… one can expect a fair amount of flack.
In general, people don’t like it when you do things differently… because… consciously (or unconsciously) it calls their decisions and beliefs into question. And questions are the enemy of certainty.
Here’s another quote I like (by Alain de Botton):
“Every society has notions of what one should believe, how one should behave and how one should look. These social conventions are formulated in legal codes and religious doctrines, but also in a vast body of social judgements which we take for granted, which dictates what we wear, how we live our lives, who we respect and how we look. We refrain from questioning the status quo because we associate what is popular with what is right”.
I especially like that last bit: we refrain from questioning…. we refrain from questioning… we refrain from questioning….
For me – that’s the start of where certainty becomes ugly (and absolutes and judgements soon follow)… it all starts when we refrain from questioning.
- We don’t QUESTION our education… (or even whether it worked for us – never mind our kids)
- We don’t QUESTION the authorities….
- We don’t QUESTION the rules…
- We don’t QUESTION the religious belief systems… or our sacred texts (or the origin of our sacred texts)…
- We don’t QUESTION the-way-it’s-always-been-done…
- We don’t QUESTION the Rat-Race… or *WHY* we live life the way we do…
- We don’t QUESTION the systems…
- We don’t QUESTION the status quo…
And the reason why we don’t question… is because we associate what is popular with what is “right”.
There’s that certainty again. That static, dead place of “Knowing”… of “Being Right”.
But it’s a comfortable feeling, nonetheless – and a feeling that so many of us crave.
So… when somebody comes along (and especially when it’s somebody close – like a friend or a family member) – and that person does life differently. And they do all the “wrong” things. And all the things they’re “not supposed to” do. And they swim against the flow…
Well… let’s just say… that people can become really, really indignant.
Because you – by your different choices – are calling their certainty into question.
And certainty hates questions.
And it’s not as though you’re doing it on purpose (pissing them off). It’s not as though you’ve made a decision to live differently… just so you can piss off all your family and friends. You’ve made a decision to live differently… because (for whatever reason)… the “Normal Way” just wasn’t cutting it for you.
But it pisses people off nonetheless!
The reason why I’ve typed such a long-winded response… is because… looking deeper into the “why’s”… has really helped me to understand why some people feel so threatened and have responded with such… defensiveness… and sometimes even anger… to our choices to live differently.
Dealing with it has been a challenge.
Part of me wants to get very defensive and justify… in great detail… every single choice that we’ve ever made.
But eventually I realised that I don’t need to justify my decisions to others.
I don’t need to explain myself. This is my life. I’m accountable to my husband and kids. Nobody else. Other people – and especially not strangers – don’t get to lecture me on my lifestyle choices. If they disapprove of our choices… well – that’s their decision. I don’t need to try and convince them otherwise.
Another way that I’ve tried to deal with the criticism… is simply to distance myself from the critics.
However… if the critics are people close to you – or people that you love dearly – then distance isn’t necessarily an option.
What I have tried to do (and this is a work-in-progress, and I certainly don’t get it right all the time)… is I try to affirm the decisions of others who live differently to ME.
I’ve written blogs about how there isn’t only ONE “right” way of doing life… in the hope that it will show my family and my friends that I absolutely and unreservedly respect THEIR decisions to live life on THEIR terms (and hope they’ll respect and support our decisions to live life on OUR terms too).
I try to show my sister… (who loves her job at a big corporation) that I don’t scorn her for her choices… that I am happy that she CHOOSES a life that makes her happy… even though it is so different to mine.
I try to explain to my mother (who is very Christian)… that – although I don’t share the same beliefs as her – that I do not (and never will) ridicule her beliefs… and that I don’t see her way as being “wrong” and my way as being “right”… I just see us as… different.
And I try to make it clear to my friends… that even though their children attend public schools… that I do not (and never will) scorn their schooling choices because THEY know their kids far, far better than me… and THEY know what’s right for their kids and their family… just as I know what’s right for MY kids and MY family…
And I try my best to make it clear how much I love diversity… even if it means that there’s a whole lot of people out there who live and believe VERY differently to the way that I live and believe.
But you know what… when all is said and done… you still can’t afford to live your one, precious life trying to please other people.
As valued as your friends may be… your life is still YOUR life – not theirs. Do not make decisions based on what other people might say or think about you.
Nick and I still have a small handful of wonderful, non-judgemental friends who… in spite of living on the more conventional side of the coin to us… remain committed to our friendship (and us likewise). I don’t need people to be the same as me in order to maintain an authentic friendship. In fact, I deliberately want a diverse group of friends… who hold differing ideas, ideals and beliefs – because it’s diversity that – I believe – will teach me. And challenge me. And grow me.
I think that one of the reasons why we have so much certainty and intolerance in the world… in the first place… is because people flatly refuse to expose themselves to “The Other”.
But… that’s a topic for another day. I’ve already rambled on for long enough.
I will address Claudia’s second question in the next post. 🙂