Thursday, April 29, 2010

On Judgment and Defensiveness

When I decided to give up meat, it was a temporary plan. I never would have imagined at the time that almost a year later I'd still be living a meatless life. It didn't take long, though, for me to realize that as a vegetarian my food choices would come under scrutiny. I would be answering questions like "Why don't you eat meat?" and "Isn't it hard to get enough protein?" over and over again. I took these questions and other comments about my vegetarianism with a grain of salt. People are naturally curious, I thought. Yet I found myself getting tired of answering the same questions and defending my choices all the time. Why, I wondered, did I always felt like my choices needed to be defended?

At least in part, I suppose it's a societal issue. Eating meat (or drinking caffeine, or being thin, for that matter) is the baseline, the status quo. Any choice outside that acceptable social norm makes others uncomfortable and therefore defensive of their own choice. (This probably has some roots as a survival instinct, though I haven't checked out the research.) And it doesn't help that corporations behind these products are always trying to convince us that we want, even NEED, to eat their meat, drink their beverage (Got Milk anyone?) or use their product. We accept that the norm is what it is and we rarely ask why or if it's the best option.

I recently ate lunch at a table with several others and the topic of vegetarianism came up. A fellow writer told us a story about a teacher she once had who, upon being asked why he was a vegetarian, turned the question around on the student and wondered why vegetarians always had to answer that question but no one ever asked omnivores why they chose to eat meat. I mentioned how I often feel that my choice to not eat meat seems to make some people uncomfortable. It seems like my choice puts them on the defensive. As humans (and maybe particularly as Americans) we don't like to be told that our choice is "wrong", and if I'm not eating meat for any logical reason, then it seems I'm essentially telling them I'm right and they're wrong. The problem is, I don't feel that way at all. My choice is my choice. I'll respect yours if you respect mine.

I understand their reaction, though. In fact, I find myself doing the same thing in different situations. It's like when someone says, "I'm trying to give up caffeine," and I automatically answer with, "I've thought about it, but I don't really drink that much caffeine anyway." It's as though I feel the need to defend my choice to drink caffeine despite the fact that the person I was speaking with didn't say anything to overtly imply that she was making a judgment on me. In fact, it's more likely that she was just making conversation. So why do I feel that the mere act of her giving up caffeine is a judgment on my choice to keep drinking it? And why do others feel that my meatless life is a judgment on their omnivore-ism? Is it because we feel, deep down inside, that our choice might not be the best choice after all?


Alexis Grant said...

Grrr I just wrote and entire long comment and then somehow deleted it! And I can't bring myself to do it again. But I do think this is one of your best posts because I see your personality -- and I can relate. I've been there with the vegetarian issue (for 10 years). And I can already see myself having to explain this when I get engaged and don't wear an engagement ring. I don't believe in them for a lot of reasons, but I think if I try to explain those reasons, everyone will get offended!

Steve said...

I've found myself having to defend my diet, my workouts, my choice to run a marathon, and so much more... Sometimes it seems like people think I'm doing it wrong, other times it seems like they think I'm trying to be better than them. I don't get it, it's my life, my decision, and it doesn't impact you in any way, shape or form, so bug off! (I don't actually say that though, just feel it sometimes :P )

Karina said...

I love this post. I'm not a vegetarian, and don't imagine that I ever will be, but I don't ever feel I need to explain my choice to eat meat. I don't see why a vegetarian would need to explain theirs to me either.

But then, I guess that's the way it just sort of is about all our choices that, like you said, are out of the "norm". I am single, with no kids, and trust me, I get A LOT of questions about my choices when it comes to my lifestyle. Insensitive, rude and annoying questions and comments.

Your post made me really THINK about what I say (or even think) about others lifestyle choices though...because we can be insensitive and annoying without realizing it.

Donna B. said...

Good for you, in your choice to be vegetarian. I find people who question one's decisions so annoying. I've decided they are either insecure, manipulating, controling, jealous or angry. I find it so interesting to hear another's differences.

Personally, I would really appreciate you sharing how to merge blogs. I have only been blogging almost a year, and want to learn all I can. Would you be so kind to share it via my email?

Thank you. I'm happy to find your blog and look forward to following you.

Ami said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. It's nice to know I'm not alone in experiencing these things. (On both the judged and the judgment sides.)

Mel said...

I find myself on both sides of the coin too, but would like to think that I am not judging but trying to kill my curiosity. I think when things are different than how we know them it is only human that we then question why. This is a great post and you have made me start thinking!! I linked up for my Sunday Stars!!

Unknown said...

I know I am going to get a lot of questions about it too, even though it's only been about 10 days-2 weeks for me. I'm proud of myself. I am still eating fish/seafood (like you), but no meat, chicken, pork, turkey, etc...

I hope I can do it. I just keep thinking of that movie whenever I'm craving bacon or a burger.

I like the solution about turning it around on the omnivore---asking him/her why he/she eats meat.

KCLAnderson (Karen) said...

What an interesting discussion! And timely, too, as my mother was just here for a visit and I often find myself on the defensive in regards to many subjects (LOL). I certainly don't like or want to be defensive and have learned through trial and error to keep my voice as neutral as possible and to avoid "taking the bait."

It might be fun to practice various ways of responding to what we consider to be judgmental comments. Like, perhaps, in response to someone saying they're quitting coffee, saying "Good for you" and that's it.

I also agree (at least for me), that in some cases, certain comments/questions/statements do lead me to think that perhaps my choice isn't the best one. Practicing self-trust is key for that. That said, I also know that there have been times when I KNOW my choice wasn't the best for me and I just didn't care.

And then, there's the whole idea that as a society we seem to thrive and embrace conflict and defensiveness in general.

It's fun (for me :-) to practice not being defensive.

KCLAnderson (Karen) said...

Qualifying my previous comment: It might be fun to practice various ways of responding to what we consider to be judgmental comments. Like, perhaps, in response to someone saying they're quitting coffee, saying "Good for you" IN A SINCERE AND SUPPORTIVE WAY and that's it.

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