I was in a training course at work today. It was a really fascinating day; looking at the planet and what we can do as an organisation and as individuals to increase our environmental sustainability.
As part of the course, we were asked to share what sustainability meant to us and I shared that I was vegan mainly because so many other areas of my life are so unsustainable. Filled with luxuries that I know are bad for the environment – a car, regular trips abroad and so much more. One of the ladies in the course suddenly said “I feel sorry for you because you think you’re doing well being vegan but your diet is probably really high in palm oil and coconut oil which is really bad for the environment”.
My ego stung so much from this verbal attack. I didn’t see where it had come from – I’d not passed judgement at her meat eating habits and couldn’t understand why she had been so vocal in her opinion of me.
It wasn’t until the afternoon that I gained a bit of clarity about where she was coming from.
We were talking about what culturally would need to change in order for the organisation to become sustainable and one person said that we need to get better at hearing people’s views in the organisation. I added to this saying how hard it is generally to hear other points of view without being defensive and shared how my first response to the comment about palm oil had been one of outrage instead of curiosity.
For I knew in truth that what she was saying was right – palm oil isn’t sustainable and it’s causing destruction of large areas of forest. But hearing her criticising my lifestyle so openly had stung and hadn’t left me able to hear her message – I only heard judgement.
And then she opened up. “I got defensive because I work alongside so many vegans and they’re constantly judging me about eating meat. I eat organic and do my part, but it’s never enough.”
And just like that, I could feel her pain. I understood what she had heard when I shared that I was vegan – judgement. Of her, her lifestyle, her choices.
And suddenly her cutting comment about my lifestyle didn’t matter so much. I felt her pain, I witnessed her isolation, I understood where she was coming from.
It reminded me that most confrontation or disagreement is never really about us. It’s really about the other person and it’s really about their story. And knowing that is really empowering and liberating.