Keeping the Peace: How to Discuss Tough Topics

Tough Conversations Advice

With the Thanksgiving holiday this week and the potential for gathering around tables with those who might not share the same political, religious, or cultural points of view, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the topic of talking with those who share different views. Conquering controversial topics — particularly with family — is not for the faint of heart, but I truly believe there's a way to stay positive, voice your opinion, and still keep the peace. 

Of course, if you’re dealing with someone who is violent, judgmental, or narrow-minded, you’re going to have a hard time discussing tough topics with them. However, if you can find people who are open-minded and willing to listen and talk about contentious issues, it’s possible to share your beliefs in positive ways. 

So, how do you go about sharing your opinions without putting other people off? Here are some of the best ideas I’ve found (after doing lots of research and trying them out for myself!) for talking about your beliefs with those who don’t share them.

 

KNOW WHAT YOU BELIEVE.

It might sound obvious, but a lot people aren’t truly certain about what they believe. Many people flip-flop on certain issues, have beliefs based on one-off op-ed pieces (rather than facts), or base beliefs on those held by those surrounding them. Before getting into any serious discussion (especially with people with opposing views), do your research  both the fact checking and the soul-searching kind. Carefully consider the issue, taking stock of what you know and what you might not know.

Just as importantly, consider how you feel really about it. It's incredibly tempting to jump onto the bandwagons, to join groups, and to identify with the labels, but remember: you are complex human being with unique experiences, insights, and ideas. We all want to belong, but think carefully about what beliefs you align yourself with. Before declaring, “I’m a _________________,” or “I believe in _________________,” ask yourself if that’s 100% true. It may very well be true, but it’s important to check in with yourself and make sure that you not your peers, not your family, not a portion of society you aspire to be like  do, in fact, hold these beliefs.

Also, it’s important to keep checking in with yourself periodically to see if you still hold the beliefs. We are ever evolving, changing creatures and what you believe at one point in your life may not be what you believe later. Because sometimes we get lazy, we might cling to beliefs we’ve had for a long time because we think we still believe them, not because we actually do.

 

SCRUTINIZE YOUR SOURCES.

It is so very, very important to check your sources, and then check them again. So many people hold — and speak about  beliefs not based on facts. With the incredible rise of the Internet, you’re able to read this article and countless other things that literally anyone can post online. Sometimes this is amazing — different viewpoints!  unique perspectives! — and sometimes this is just insane — fake news sites created just to get clicks, opinion pieces skewed with untrue claims, etc.

Not only is important to make sure the facts you have are, indeed, facts, but it’s important to be aware of how greatly biased the Internet is. The Internet helps us take sides. We’re encouraged — by the sheer nature of how the Internet is set up — to cultivate either/or mindsets.

Every day we are given a choice to pick one thing or the other: like or dislike this post, agree or disagree with that article. Social media, while it does allow for comments and more lengthy explorations into "gray" territories, often encourages us to choose one thing over the other, usually in a yes-or-no, black-or-white dichotomy.

And here’s the scariest part: what we choose is constantly reinforced with algorithms designed to personalize our content. We are given more content that aligns with what we like, less that showcases what we don’t like. Most of us don’t actively realize this, so it starts to seem like everyone and everything supports our views.

Unlike in the old days, when everyone saw the same images on TV and then disagreed or agreed with those images, we’re now shown images that support the ideas we’ve told the Internet we like. What we see online is meant to appeal to us — which can definitely be nice sometimes — but this is creating little individual bubbles where we’re all seeing the things we want to see, having our beliefs and preferences reinforced (often without even seeing information from the other side).

Do your best to go out of your way to find new sources, to find unbiased articles, to even reach out to those who hold opposing views and ask them for their thoughts.

 

CHANNEL YOUR COURAGE.

Speaking up about the things you believe in with someone who doesn’t share your perspective can be scary, which is why you're going to need to channel your courage. Anyone who has ever had to have a difficult conversation — a break-up, a resignation, etc. — knows just how much courage is required for talking about tough topics. 

When facing challenging conversations, remind yourself that fear (and anger...) is just a chemical reaction going on inside of you. For some reason, I've always found it helpful to bring to mind the biological responses of emotion to remind me that feelings of fear are both natural and combatable

Just because you are afraid to do something doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. In fact, it's often a sign that something is important — particularly when talking about conversations, not phobia-style fears. When beginning an important conversation, take a deep breath, remind yourself of the knowledge you possess (you've done your research!), and understand that, even though a conversation might be difficult, you are doing the right thing by making an effort to communicate openly and honestly with those you know. 

 

BE CLEAR AND HONEST.

When it comes to talking about difficult topics or beliefs, we don't always begin the conversation by being clear and honest. Too often, we are driven by strong emotions and triggered by the words of someone else rather that striving to be levelheaded and thoughtful in what we say. I know this is much easier said than done, but imagine what it would be like if you opened up a conversation like this:

“Hey, I know we have totally different views on this issue, but I’d really like to talk about it. I’m going to do my best to share my point of view calmly, and to listen and keep an open mind to what you have to say. I know neither of us will probably change our minds on this issue, but I think it’s important for us to should talk about it.”

When starting a conversation with someone of a different political background or belief, it can be helpful to make it clear that you’re not necessarily trying to change their mind. One of the reasons we have such heated debates about politics is because it often feels like the opposing side is saying, “You’re wrong. Here’s why.”

Or, if you are trying to change someone’s mind, what if you were honest about it? You could say something like, “You know I feel really passionately about this topic. It’s very important to me, and I’d really love it if I could change your mind about it so that you could see it the way I do. I know that might not be possible, but would you be willing to listen to what I have to say? After I share my thoughts, I’ll be more than happy to listen to your point of view, too.”

The key takeaway from this point is this: you’re never going to transform someone else’s mindset through trickery, bullying, or manipulation. (Okay, you might be able to, but is that the kind “win” you want?) You’ll get a lot farther — and probably have a more positive conversation — if you’re honest and clear about what you want to talk about and what your end goal for the conversation is.

 

SPEAK WITH COMPASSION.

Compassion is a word we hear often, but its actual definition isn’t always clear. Compassion is about recognizing another's pain and desiring to alleviate it in some way (regardless of whether or not you agree with that person's beliefs).

When you’re passionate about a topic, it can be hard to channel compassion in the way you speak and react, but it’s important to do so  not only for the other person’s benefit, but for your own mental state as well.

In the midst of talking about the tough stuff, we need compassion  especially for those who display aggressive, angry, and hateful behavior. Without compassion, we’ll never be able to find our way in this shadowy, complex jungle of difficult discourse. Compassion is our flashlight in the dark. It, alone, is not going to get us from point A to point B, but it sure as hell is going to make the path easier to see.

As I wrote in my article on compassion, defending what you believe and having compassion for those who think differently are not mutually exclusive. You can be passionate and compassionate. Remember this when you’re speaking with someone who has completely different views and you’re struggling with compassion. (Also, try your best to go into the conversation with a compassionate mindset!)

 

LISTEN – REALLY LISTEN.

Listening isn’t just about opening your ears to the sounds coming from someone else’s mouth. It’s also about paying attention to body language, tone, facial expression. It’s also about looking past the words and considering what someone might actually mean, instead of just focusing on what they’re saying. Often, below the surface, it's clear that "I'm aligned with [insert political party here]" really means "[a specific value] is really important to me and [political party of choice] really seems to represent that."

Will it be challenging to listen to other people talk passionately about their beliefs that differ completely from your own? You bet. But, if you want people to be tolerant and accepting of your views, you have to show others the same courteousness. If you want people to listen to you, you must listen to them. And when I say really listen, I mean it. It’s tempting to assume you know what someone is going to say or to take a stand on it before words have even been uttered, but don't allow yourself to make assumptions. Listen with your ears, watch with your eyes, and pay attention with your mind. 

Also, even if others' beliefs might sound crazy to you, don’t punish them for their honesty. Never forget that listening isn’t just about opening your ears — it’s about opening your mind as well. The point of talking about difficult issues with someone of differing beliefs is to open the lines of communication. 

 

RESPECT ALL BOUNDARIES.

Not everyone is going to want to have difficult discussions with you, and that’s okay. It may be frustrating not to be able to talk to people about what you want to talk about, but it’s important to respect others’ boundaries. If someone makes it clear that they don't want to talk to you about an issue, respect that. (Also, consider finding some people who do want to talk to you.)

Here are some other times you might want to respect boundaries — your own and those of the people around you — and not bring up, or keep talking about, tough topics:

 

  • When the other person is emotionally unready or unwilling to hear what you have to say. This isn’t to say you can’t talk about it at some point, but assess the emotional state of others and determine if it might be better to choose a different time to talk. Also, on a less dramatic scale, consider the general emotional state of yourself and the other person. If you (or they) had a terrible, long day at work, maybe it’s not the best time to get into a heated debate.

 

  • When violent acts might be committed against you. This is not a reason for a whole group to be quiet (if it were, we’d still have horrific institutions like slavery), but in one-on-one situations where you would be in great physical or emotional danger if you were to speak your mind about a certain topic, it’s best to remain quiet until you can find a way to communicate without harm coming to you or someone else. Please be safe when it comes to speaking up.

 

  • When you’ve honestly, openly stated your beliefs with kindness and compassion, and you’re receiving only hatred, judgment, and accusations in return. Some people are just not open to listening and talking. This is unfortunate, and it can be painful if it's someone you love, but it’s just the way it goes. Once you’ve said what you wanted to say, repeating it over and over (however nicely!) will no longer be productive.

 

  • When a large group of people is ganging up on you. Again, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t speak your mind, but sometimes it’s better to speak up when you either (a) have at least one person on your side or (b) can have a one-on-one with individuals of the group, instead of speaking to the group as a whole.

 

Regardless of what you’re talking about — or who you’re speaking to  it’s important not only to respect others’ boundaries, but to take care of your own boundaries as well. If you’re unsure about whether or not to keep talking, ask, “Would you like to keep talking about this topic?” If you’ve gotten to a point where your own boundaries are being threatened, say, “I’m glad we were able to start this conversation, but I feel it is no longer productive, and I think we should stop talking about it for now.” 

 

REINFORCE IT WITH ACTION.

Actions speak louder than words, they say, and it really is true. You can talk yourself blue in the face about what you believe in, but if you don’t support those words with actions, it’s going to be much less likely that people will take you, and your beliefs, seriously. Here a few ideas for how you can take positive action on your beliefs:

 

  • Donate to a cause that supports what you believe in
  • Volunteer for an organization you support
  • Share (legitimate, fact-based) information on social media
  • Offer to organize an event or fundraiser for a cause
  • Watch a film about the topic with someone who opposes it
  • Research the issue and consider new ways to offer help
  • Give (well-researched) books on issues you support to skeptics
  • Vote for the people who support what you believe
  • Call Senators / people in Congress and ask for change
  • Ask experts on the issues for ideas for how to help
  • Join local (or online) groups who share your beliefs
  • Read up on what others are saying (and gather facts!)
  • Shop at stores that uphold your beliefs (don't know? ask!)

 

It may seem like this action-taking isn’t a necessary step to talking about what you believe in, but it’s actually essential. Anyone can say they believe in anything, but to really have those beliefs heard (and have them matter), action is necessary. You might also want to see if you can have someone with opposing views take part in the action in some way. Sometimes people don’t realize what they believe until they see a situation for themselves.

 

 


2018 Holiday Shopping + Sale!

 

Positively Present Gift Guide
 

Love it or hate it, the holiday season is nearly upon us, which means, for many, it's time to stress about that gift-giving list of friends, family, teachers, helpers, etc. I stressed so hard this year that I'm nearly done with my list! I absolutely hate leaving things to the last moment, especially when it comes to gift-giving. For one, I want to get those I love something they'll love and, for another, I don't have the money to waste on last-minute, frantic shopping expeditions! If you're like me and want to get your shopping done now so that you can actually enjoy the holidays, let me present you with a few Positively Present-themed gift options that are sure to delight your loved ones! 

 

Take Care PrintART PRINTS! 

Whether you're looking for a simple print, a beautiful canvas, or a framed work-of-art, they're all in my shop, ready to be shipped for perfect gift-giving. And, I've got a sale going this week to encourage you to shop now and not put it off a moment longer! Get 30% off with code "holiday" until November 18, 2018. This is the last sale of the year so if you've been eyeing any of the prints, now is the time! Also, I'm planning to switch up some of the prints in the shop in the new year so if you don't want to miss out on anything that's currently there, you'll want to shop now.  

SHOP ART PRINTS HERE! 
Use code "holiday" for 30% off 'til November 18!

 

EDM 2019 DiaryEVERY DAY MATTERS DIARIES

The 2019 Every Day Matters diaries are flying off the shelves this year so if you're looking for a great gift for someone who loves to stay inspired and organized all year long, this is perfect! (It's also a perfect gift to treat yourself with for all of your hard holiday shopping work!) The diary is available in both desk and pocket sizes so it appeals to a variety of users. I personally use my desk-sized one as a year-long gratitude journal, and I love it! 

SHOP DIARIES HERE! 

 

Positively Present Guide to LifeTHE POSITIVELY PRESENT GUIDE TO LIFE

Is there someone on your list who could use a bit more inspiration, positivity, and self-love in their life? Look no further than The Positively Present Guide to Life! This book is packed with insights, activities, and uplifting content to motivate and educate, and is sure to be useful to anyone who wants to learn more about living a positive, present life. Available in paperback or hardcover, it will surely help whoever receives it as a gift end the year (and begin 2019!) on a more positive note. 

SHOP THE BOOK HERE! 

 

Effortless Inspiration BooksEFFORTLESS INSPIRATION SERIES

If you're looking for the perfect stocking stuffer or add-on gift for someone you love, you'll find it in one of the four Effortless Inspiration books. Focusing on a single topic -- GratitudeLiving in the MomentForgiveness, or Compassion -- each book is filled with beautiful quotations, thought-provoking ideas, and even suggested activities for the reader to have a better understanding of what each of these topics really means. Not only are these little books filled with wisdom, they're also beautiful too! 

SHOP THE SERIES HERE! 

 

Loving YourselfDELIGHTFUL DIGITAL GIFTS

For those who want some interactive, digital gift-giving ideas, check out the Loving Yourself workbook, the Finding Yourself workbook, or the Self-Love Card Deck! These are perfect for those who love to work on tablets and prefer digital content to tangible gifts. They're also excellent last-minute gifts since you can simply send a link or print them out and gift them right away!

SHOP DIGITAL GIFTS HERE! 

 

PATREON SUBSCRIPTION

If you know someone who loves Positively Present (or just loves supporting creators in general), a subscription to my Patreon page might be a wonderful gift! There are a variety of different tiers, each with their own unique benefits, and signing someone else up for a subscription is a great way not only to give them exclusive access to a creator they love, but has the added bonus of supporting my work as well! Learn more about Patreon here 

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BONUS! USE THE AMAZON LINK! 

This last one isn't exactly a gift, but if you do any shopping on Amazon this holiday season (or anytime!) and want to support Positively Present in the process (at no additional cost to you!), you can use the Amazon Affiliate link. Just bookmark it and use it anytime you shop on Amazon, and you'll be supporting the work I do without having to spend any money. Win, win! :)

 

I hope this little round-up of holiday gifts sparked some ideas -- or at least inspired you to start shopping now so you can enjoy the holiday season with those you love instead of searching or scrolling frantically for the perfect gift at the last minute. Gift-giving should be a joyful experience, but it tends to lose its appeal when it feels forced or frantic, so start now and you'll feel sooo good when everything is all done! Happy shopping!

 


Happiness vs. Positivity : What's the Difference?

 

Happiness vs Positivity

 

If you want to know the truth, I'm not often happy. I was born with a disposition that lends itself to melancholy and anxiety. I've always been a worrier and I'm prone to bouts of deep, dramatic sadness. But I'm not complaining. You know why? Because happiness isn't my life's goal. And, if you're looking for honesty here, it shouldn't be your life's goal either. 

One of the greatest struggles I've had over the past (almost!) 10 years of working on Positively Present is misconception that happiness = positivity. In fact, that was one of the greatest struggles of my life before I started truly understanding positivity. I was taught -- as most of us are -- that the ideal life is a happy life, but the fact is: happiness isn't something you can guarantee, and making that your life's focus is going to lead to intense disappointment and a constant, feverish need to find the next source of happiness as soon as the feeling fades. 

Back in 2015, I wrote a post called Happiness Is Not a Choice: The Difference Between Happiness + Positivity, and after reading a bunch of happiness-related quotes (in preparation for the 2018 Gratitude Challenge -- it's not too late to join in if you want!), I decided I wanted to revisit the topic since I think it's one of the most important distinctions for anyone who wants to live a more positive, present life to understand. 

Here are some of the differences between happiness and positivity, along with some thoughts on each! 

 

Happiness is a mood.
Positivity is a mindset.

Happiness is fleeting. No matter what wonderful thing happens, the happy feelings will only last so long, and that's because, like any emotion, happiness is transitory. Positivity, on the other hand, is a way of seeing the world. It's an attitude that you can embrace no matter how difficult the circumstances. Regardless of how you're feeling or what you're experiencing, you can always choose to look for the good (even if the "good" is simply a life lesson that will ultimately make you stronger) and hope for a better tomorrow.  

 

Happiness may be out of your control.
Positivity is a choice you can always make. 

When you're having a terrible day or something horrific has happened to you, it's going to be difficult (if not impossible) to be happy. Happiness can sometimes be within your control based on your choices in life, but there are a lot of things we can't control that cause unhappiness. Positivity is always within our control. Being optimistic -- no matter how bad the situation -- is a choice. You might be miserable, but with a positive attitude you can still believe that better things are coming and that you can take away something meaningful from every experience. 

 

Happiness is generally short-lived.
Positivity can be ever-present. 

Think about the last time you were truly, joyously, can't-stop-smiling happy. How long did it last? An hour? A day? A week? Happiness, no matter how amazing the cause of it, doesn't last for long. It's wonderful and amazing when it happens, but it's not a state of mind; it's an emotion. But positivity is different. It's a mindset, which means that, as long as you continue to work on it and practice it, you can keep it around forever. Happiness is fleeting, but positivity can be ever-lasting. 

 

Happiness is part of a disposition that can be inherited.
Positivity is life-changing skill that can be learned. 

Happiness is an emotion, but it's one that some people are more likely to experience simply based on how they were made. Some people are more likely to be joyful and cheerful, to have inherited a sunny disposition. Unfortunately, some are less likely to have inherited those traits, making the emotion of happiness more elusive. However, that's no reason to despair, because, regardless of the disposition you've inherited, you can learn the art of positivity through practice and patience. It's not always easy, but it's much more possible than changing your DNA! 

 

Happiness all the time would be miserable.
Positivity all the time leads to contentment. 

Can you imagine what it would be like to be happy ALL the time? In theory, it sounds amazing, but, in reality, there'd be nothing to compare it to, so it wouldn't seem like anything special. In fact, it would probably be quite maddening if all of the sudden you were given everything you ever wanted and never again felt any emotion other than happiness. Being positive all the time, however, is one of the best ways I've found to lead a more contented, accepting life. It's a skill that will transform every aspect of life -- making the happy moments happier and the painful moments less painful. 

 

Happiness is a goal that might not be achieved.
Positivity is a mindset one can adopt with certainty. 

No matter how hard you might work toward what you think will bring you happiness -- the perfect partner, career, etc. -- you might not be able to achieve it because, let's face it, life is like that sometimes. No matter how badly you want something, it's not guaranteed. And, once you get that thing, there's no guarantee it'll make you feel happy (nor a guarantee on how long it'll make you feel happy). A positive attitude is a mindset you can choose with certainty, no matter what life throws at you. And, I can 100% assure you that, no matter how bad things get, positivity will only make them better.

 

As you can see, the differences between happiness and positivity are multitudinous. As many times as they're interchanged in popular culture, it's important to remember that they're not the same thing. Happiness could have you chasing after things for decades, endlessly waiting for the day when everything feels perfect. Positivity will always meet you right where you are, good day or bad day, through all of life's ups and downs. If you spend your life chasing happiness, you'll always be on the hunt for something. But if you focus on mastering the skill of positivity, you'll be able to make the most of wherever you are, whatever comes your way.


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