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“How to Change People” AKA “An Exercise in Futility”

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It’s been a solid fifteen months since I started down this rocky and consuming road I will call “Amy’s Quest to Eat Super-Duper Healthy”. I started out simply eschewing dairy and wheat (ah, the days when I still ate oats…), then moved onto full blown 100% Paleo (get that apple away from me!!!), and finally settled into my current, hopefully long-term lifestyle, in which I eat responsibly-sourced real food and don’t freak out about a little rice, potatoes, and fruit.

What I’ve gotten from this sojourn is unmeasurable, but a few things would be: renewed energy, weight loss, and the end of a lot of my digestive and joint issues. It also meant, funnily enough, better breath, nice smelling feet, and clear skin. All sorts of good stuff! Stuff I get excited about, and want to share with not only my friends and family, but also with anyone who will listen (and many who have absolutely no desire to hear about it but can’t get away from me fast enough).

I don’t know if it’s something about the Paleo diet, something about the people who follow the Paleo Diet, or just a side effect of tons of extra energy, but I’ve noticed that Paleo followers are rather fervent about converting the ones that they love, and there is many a post and message board devoted to the “how do I get (insert beloved here) to try/be/do Paleo?”. I know this because I read them all last summer, when I was on a mission to convert as many people as possible.

I was just so excited. Gone was my body-hate, my lethargy, my extra weight, my dark circles. I felt alive and rejuvenated, I felt in tune with my body. I decided everyone else needed this too, and thus armed myself with as many articles and examples and facts and anecdotes as I could memorize, marched into the world, and began to preach.

It was wrong of me, and it backfired, and thank goodness my friends are forgiving.

I was so full of passion and zeal and righteousness that I imposed my beliefs on people who a) weren’t interested, b) weren’t ready to hear it, or c) didn’t know how to tell me to shut up. I didn’t so much inspire as I did alienate, guilt, and tirelessly rail to deaf ears. I made myself sick with worry and grief that I wasn’t getting through to people, and made people I truly care about feel bad, uncomfortable, or at the very least, annoyed.

The more enthusiastically I preached, the duller their eyes got. Finally, I gave it a rest.

I managed to reign it in (most of the time), and I lived my life. I ate my food, I cooked for my friends, I talked about things other than genetically modified corn. I bit my tongue when the Doritos got whipped out, and I kept my cool when people reached for the no-fat yogurt. And this amazing thing happened.

People started to ask me questions. And I was happy to answer them. The difference was, this time, they were happy to hear it. The ones who actually wanted to understand why I ate the way I ate were the ones I talked to about Paleo (as it should have been from the start). And the people I had no expectations of were the ones who came up to me two weeks later and proclaimed they had been eating more vegetables, or tried going wheat-free, or bought their groceries from the farmer’s market.

That change I had desperately tried to force happened all on its own, once I stopped choking that change to death with my zealotry. Looking back, I acted like bit of nut (to be honest, I still act a lot like that, but I try really hard not to). In the end, the nuttiness just made me crazy.

There’s a conversation I have with a lot of people. It goes pretty much like this:

Me: …and that’s Paleo.

Other Person: No BREAD?! Don’t you miss it?

Me: At first. Then the cravings go away.

Other Person: Oh, I could never do that.

The zealot in me wants to scream, “What do you mean, you could never do that? Of course you can! And you should! Don’t you realize how bad wheat is for your health and the environment?! Do you want to be obese and have diabetes and cancer? THIS IS YOUR HEALTH!!!” But I realize that’s a little aggressive, and no one likes being attacked or preached at. Instead, I go with this:

Me: You’d be surprised by how strong you are. I was.

And leave it at that. Then drop it. Live your life. Let them see you happily eat delicious food. Cook for them (that’s always a winner). When they are ready, when they are in a place to hear it, to want to hear it, they’ll let you know. Until then, it’s all futile. How many times have YOU been swayed by someone telling you you’re wrong and should change? Because I’ve never been. If anything, it makes me stubbornly cling to what I’m being told is bad even more tightly.

This is something I have to tell myself all the time. It’s natural to want everyone you love to feel as wonderful as you do — but forcing them into it will mean far-from-wonderful feelings. I chant to myself: you wouldn’t want bread forced on you. So don’t force lard on (insert extremely tolerant friend here).

Perhaps this is just a personal attempt to quell my inner judge. Because I can be pretty judge-y (especially when I’m reigning Queen of the Court of Food Justice in My Mind), even though I try not to be. Changing the world is a wonderful goal, but I need to keep reminding myself that “changing the world” does not equal “changing people”. It means changing myself, and hoping that I’m a positive influence, even if that influence is just a smile and an outstretched slice of an heirloom tomato.

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One thought on ““How to Change People” AKA “An Exercise in Futility”

  1. Pique curiosity, model, offer, but don’t lecture. This is good advice for anyone trying to persuade others to their way of thinking. (I know, because I’ve learned the hard way too. 😀 )

    I don’t see myself going Paleo anytime soon. But I enjoy reading your blog and the dishes look quite appetizing!

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