Our local coffee shop – Where bantering is par for the course!
When you know better, you can do better. But when you know better should you educate others to know better? (I say know because what they do with the information is up to them.) Is it a responsibility to educate others? A moral obligation? A nice gesture? Or is it overstepping boundaries?
Today someone asked me:
What does one do when they are the only one in their extended family who understands/believes information and is labeled a kook for warning people about it??
Today it was in regards to EMF radiation as a probable carcinogen and young children being more affected by it. But I have had this same conversation again and again with numerous people struggling with the same question in regards to chemical exposure, processed foods, hormones in meats, GMOs, healthcare choices, birth choices, cloth diapers, baby food choices, you name it.
It’s a real struggle. What do you do when you are the only one in your family, extended family, or circle of friends who understands information/new research and you are met with resistance when you try to educate others about it?
First and foremost, I think it is important to focus on you. When you know better, you do better. Begin by making better choices for you and your immediate family/household. Your number one goal with the information you obtain should be to better your health and your lifestyle and teach your children so they grow up understanding the world a little better. But don’t just teach them the new way of doing things. Teach them to be lifelong learners. Teach them to question everything, research everything and draw their own conclusions. Teach them that research advances over time and just because something is “best practice” today does not mean it will be forever. Teach them to look at the world a little differently.
Then educate others by your example. When they notice you are doing things differently (and trust me they will notice or it will come up in conversation) you can explain why you are making the choices you are. It is important to keep it focused on you and the facts using sentences framed along the lines of, “We feel it is important to ____ because research shows _____.” This is where no matter how you word it or what you say, you are often met with defensive behavior (well that’s not true because we do ____ and we’re just fine) or deflective behavior (there you go again with your crazy beliefs)
Here in lies the problem with educating others. No one wants to think they are doing/did something wrong especially when those choices affect/affected their children. I don’t think it is anyone’s intention to make others feel bad (or at least I know it’s not my intention and hope it’s no one’s intention). However, when you educate others about a conscious choice to do better because of risks associated with the (often mainstream) alternative, they are usually doing the very thing you are speaking out against. They inevitably feel defensive and judged. So how do you turn this into a positive experience for everyone involved?
There are a few follow up things you can do depending on the resistance you are met with.
First let’s look at my personal favorite.
“But I turned out just fine.” (or you or she or someone turned out just fine)
The one come back I wish I could banish forever is “turned out just fine.”
Maybe you did. But just because you did something and turned out “just fine” doesn’t negate the risks that research shows.
There are many people who smoked their whole life, lived well past their prime, and never suffered any negative effects from smoking. They turned out “just fine.” Tell that to the millions of people who smoked and suffer from cancer, emphysema, COPD or a host of other health problems.
There are many people who remember taking road trips in the back of pickup trucks. They turned out “just fine.” Tell that to the families who’s loved ones would still be alive had they been wearing a seat belt.
We can all think of examples like this. We do the best we can with the information we have at the time. Then research progresses, we learn more, and we do better. When we meet the “just fine” resistance I think it is an opportunity to remind others that each year research, studies and technology progress. Things change. Validate their decisions by telling them that we all make the best decisions we can with the information we have at the time. Then encourage them to research the topic more if it concerns or interests them. The more we know, the better informed our choices can be.
Then there are the responses that throw it back at you and make you want to jump to your own defense.
There you go again with your [crazy, hippie, conspiracy theory, fill in judgement here] beliefs.
This response irks me almost as much as “turned out just fine” because it makes me feel very defensive. I want to scream, I’m not crazy, it’s just better and true and you’re stupid for not believing it!!!
WHOA now…hold your horses!
Jumping off the deep end to defend yourself doesn’t do the conversation any justice. So what approach can we take instead?
We can respond with approaches that rationally and calmly defend ourselves without fueling the fire.
Example 1: “You’re right. I am crazy for obsessively reading labels and choosing skincare products that are free of dangerous chemicals but my baby gets lots of compliments on his clear skin and I can sleep well knowing I’m not putting toxins and carcinogens on his body.” This may be the end of the conversation but you have certainly given them some food for thought. Or it may continue from there and this may have opened a door for honest communication and an opportunity to educate more.
Example 2: “Well it might seem crazy that I read labels so carefully but actually it’s a little crazy that I have to. Did you know that in Europe over 1,000 chemicals are banned from health and skin care products because they are known toxins and carcinogens but in the U.S. less than a dozen are banned? To make my life a little easier I try to use the Skin Deep Cosmetic Database. You can look up any of your products and see what chemicals are in it as well as an overview of why certain chemicals are hazardous. It makes it easy to decide what chemicals I really want to avoid and which ones I’m okay exposing myself too. Everything in moderation, right?!”
I’m sure you can think of other ways to engage in productive conversations that suit your personality!
Something to keep in mind regardless of what conversations you have? Everyone will make a decision that is right for them and their situation and it may not be the same decision you are making. That’s okay! There shouldn’t be judgement on either side. I think it is important if you “know better” to educate others so they are informed consumers. But once they are armed with information it is up to them what they do with that information.
Everyone must consider their time, finances, lifestyle and unique situation when making decisions that are right for them. Maybe they can’t afford to buy organic, local grown, whole foods. But maybe they make an effort to buy less frozen and more fresh stuff. Maybe someone doesn’t have the time or the washing machine to cloth diaper but instead buys Chlorine-free, wood pulp diapers so their baby is not exposed to the chemicals in traditional disposable diapers. Maybe someone is educated about birth and fully understands the risks associated with the current American birthing methods. But maybe she really wants an epidural and accepts the risks that may come from that (higher risk for C-section, possible spinal headache, medicated baby, etc.) If she is fully educated and aware and accepting of the possible consequences then she is making a calculated, careful decision that is right for her and should be fully supported.
So ultimately what’s the biggest take away from all of this?
We should approach these situations with a humble and sincere heart. Our first and foremost intention should be making the best possible choices we can. Through our intentional living we can then pass it along to others. We should be intentional and non-judgmental. We should be accepting and patient. Change takes time! And we should remember that much of what we learn ourselves is from trial and error and being on the receiving end of these tough conversations.
I will never forget that I learned carrying a baby forward facing in a carrier isn’t good for them when a mother graciously asked me not to carry her daughter like that. (Who knew, right?!? After all companies like Baby Bjorn make these carriers and advertise them this way. How would you know it’s bad???) But she printed a couple articles for me to read and was sincere in her approach. Sure I remember feeling guilty and I remember feeling funny but I learned from it. And I went home and did more research. I learned that not only is forward facing not good, neither is the Baby Bjorn carrier at all. Knee to knee support is important especially for the first 6 months!!
But through examples like this I have learned that it can easily be me (and often is me!) learning more from someone who does things differently and takes the time to explain why. So the next time you hear something and feel defensive, do more research and decide what makes sense for you. And the next time you explain why you do something the way you do, do so humbly with the intention of bettering the world we live in through informed decisions, whatever that decision may be!