While sitting at a Tim Hortons waiting for a friend, I pulled out my computer to work on another blog post. Suddenly the group of teenagers behind me start hysterically laughing and insulting each other by yelling statements like, “you have Parkinson’s”, “you have breast cancer”, “you have leukaemia”, etc. Everyone sitting at the Tim’s started to look around, feeling uncomfortable and not saying a thing. As the table was sitting right behind me, I turned around and simply asked why they think those statements are funny. While the table looked at me in silence, I continued to tell them about how other people around actually have experienced those illnesses and reminded them to watch their words and be mindful of their surroundings. They apologized, sat in silence for a few minutes, got up and left. My hands were absolutely shaking — but why?
In the past few weeks I have had numerous conversations with people about being in uncomfortable situations while dealing with people who have strong opposing political views, people who make sexist remarks, or people who make general controversial statements in casual day-to-day situations. These conversations have got me consistently thinking about the importance of standing up, conquering fear to do so and some strategies on how to stay calm, collected and articulate.
- Don’t be aggressive — yelling and anger usually leads to thinking emotionally and sensitively rather than being clear-headed and articulate. Make sure that you are in the right state of mind and try to stay calm and collected.
- Listen — before arguing, try to understand someone’s stance and point of view. Maybe they genuinely are unsure about the meaning behind what they are saying. Taking the time to listen can give you background information and clarity as to what they are feeling and thinking.
- Ask for clarification and ask questions — if you aren’t sure you heard correctly, ask the individual to clarify their stance. By asking questions you can also engage people in a conversation. “What do you mean by that?” statements often help to dig deeper and understand how knowledgeable someone is in their stance and opinion.
- Help them understand another perspective — people don’t realize the impact of their words until they realize who they are offending. Putting this into perspective gives people the ability to think of not only themselves but the people around them too.
- Using “I” statements — it is easy to point fingers and call someone names, but when you articulate your stance and where you are coming from it makes people feel more comfortable and less attacked. The best way to have a conversation with anyone is for it to be relaxed and not overly emotional or shaming for the other individual.
From my personal experiences, you definitely cannot change the world and alter everyone’s opinions. If you’re like me and have felt guilty after walking away from a situation without standing up for yourself, then challenge yourself to do so when the next situation arises. It is not easy to stand-up and challenge people, but some people have never had their opinions challenged and don’t see any issues with what they are saying. You can never predict what will happen next, but the least you can do is bring awareness and shed light on the importance of using our words thoughtfully. The words we use creates the world that we live in.