“I would love to do that, but I just wouldn’t have the guts. What would people say?”
I hear that so many times. In fact, I hear it much more than I hear unsolicited advice or comments about our lifestyle.
Yet, that was also our biggest hurdle, to living the way we want to, the way that feels right to us. What would people say if I only owned 5 outfits? What would people say if we brought all of our own containers to the store? If we tried to only eat organic foods? If I breastfed past a year?
You know, at first people said a lot. Our first big break from the mainstream was with our parenting, and people give lots of advice to first-time parents anyway. Most of it was well-intended misinformation.
But, as time went on, and people saw that we were confident with our decisions, and that we had done the research, thought it over. Gradually, the comments stopped.
Here are some things I’ve learned, about other people’s reactions to off-the-beaten-path decisions:
1. People will say things at first, but they will stop when they see that you are confident and educated about your decisions. By the time the Bean turned 2, we received very few comments about our parenting. Nobody has said anything (negative) about our minimalistic lifestyle in over a year.
2. People will talk about you, no matter what. In my college communication class, they called it your “interpersonal underworld.” We all have one. We all get talked about, even if we’re totally mainstream! So don’t worry about it. I always say that I’m fine with people talking about me behind my back, as long as they keep it behind my back. What I can honestly say is that our lifestyle choices have not cost us a single friend. We’ve naturally drifted away from some people, but we would have anyway. I’m sure I have friends who chuckle and think we’re nuts, but it hasn’t affected our friendship. Sometimes I chuckle and think my friends are nuts, but I still love them!
3. It is important to come across as non-judgmental. Even if you feel very strongly about your choices. Present your choices as “this is what we’re doing.” You can explain why, but don’t point fingers. Let your life, and your kindness, bear witness. If you do this, people will be inspired. If you point a finger, you’ll put people on the defensive, which will accomplish nothing positive.
4. People with different ideas can still be friends. This is a radical idea in today’s political climate. But you’ll find that people who are different are interesting, and they will find you interesting.
5. However, do find some like-minded friends. Our friends are diverse, but I wouldn’t call any of them mainstream. We’ve got friends with no furniture in their living room, friends who nurse toddlers, friends who don’t vaccinate, friends who try to limit the waste they produce, friends who live aboard in the summer (boating is wonderfully social!), and even friends who are trying to get off the grid! Search around and find your tribe; you’ll feel much more supported.