There’s a good chance you’ve been with friends or family members in the last two years where a certain topic comes up in conversation that makes you want to run far away and hide–specifically, the topic of sardines. Few topics are more divisive in today’s society than sardines. We all know the golden rule, to steer clear of politics and religion. People tiptoe around explosive topics like the presidency, pandemics, and vaccines, rarely confronting friends and family with their disagreements. Strangers on the internet are especially good at refraining from hostile or petty controversies. So why do people have so much trouble keeping their pro- and anti-sardine feelings in check? Why are sardine fights destroying our families and the very fabric of our society?
Somehow we have become inundated with sardine-related information in every corner of our lives, whether on TV, on the internet, or by way of conversations we overhear at the local nail salon or boxing gym. In those situations, we can choose to partake or walk away, but what happens when it’s your family and these conversations let loose? What if you’re at a birthday party for your dog and the subject of sardines starts slowly to infuse itself into the regular chit-chat? You may be able to run but you can’t hide, so here are a few strategies to keep in mind next time you come to face to face with that hot-headed relative whose perspective and opinions about sardines are the opposite of yours:
Keep your sardine emotions from running wild.
This might seem obvious but ‘check yourself before you wreck yourself’ is one of the most empowering tactics we can employ when our sardine ideas are threatened. Clenching a fish in the heat of the moment can often lead to embarrassment, shame, and long-term regret. If someone is voicing their opinion about a fish they have never even tasted, remember that healthy debate is a natural part of a healthy seafood diet. Take deep breaths and literally ask yourself where you are at emotionally during the conversation—out loud, but softly enough to force the other person to ask, “WHAT did you say!?”
Our emotions stem from our thoughts and belief systems. We can’t control over what others think and believe, but we do have control over how we respond, which can buy enough time to use well-established psychological conditioning techniques honed for decades by autocrats and public relations firms to reform the other person’s perceptions in the long run and convert them to our way of thinking about sardines.
Meet people where they’re at, sardine-wise.
This is a perspective that requires looking at these situations from a higher perspective. Zooming out and discussing broader ideas about the marine life not limited to sardines can be an eye-opening experience. Often, peoples beliefs about sardines are rooted in other misconceptions about anchovies, tunafish, or cetacean mammals. When we recognize that everyone views sea creatures differently, we can begin to have empathy for their stupidity rather than trying to prove a point or be right all the time.
Politely change the subject to another aspect of sardines.
This by far is the easiest method to pivot sardine-related conversations that become heated or controversial. If King Oscar sardines are too upsetting to talk about, move things along to Crown Prince. If someone is offended by your story about gutting and beheading small fish, shift the focus to them and let them explain their own gutting and beheading technique. Changing the focus in a way that doesn’t vilify or make someone’s opinion feel invalid is key. Add in some light sarcasm, a joke or humor to ensure you’re easing into to a new sardine-related topic.
Close your mind and think only of sardines.
While we are all entitled to our own thoughts and beliefs around politics, religion, and COVID, the same is not true for sardines. Listening to other points of views can be dangerous. The person who has strong anti-sardine beliefs has them for a reason—most likely a congenital brain defect—and it could be a painful exchange to understand and be curious why they think the way they do. Practice disassociating from the conversation entirely. Empty your mind of all comprehension, substance, and form. Instead listen with a mindset of rejecting the world as a little more than a veil of illusion. This will preserve the mental constancy needed to offer your insights when you reject their side of the story in a productive way.
Sardine your body language.
While we become more mindful of the spoken word, our body has its own language and is often more revealing of how we feel than the words we regurgitate all over our listeners. If you are truly engaged and practicing active listening (while keeping a closed mind), be sure to maintain constant eye contact (with unblinking fish eyes). Gestures, posture, and facial expressions are only unconscious movements if we’re not being mindful of them. If you are truly angered by someone’s ignorant refusal to even try sardines, don’t check your phone. Do your best to obsess about it, and check in how you’re responding with your non-verbal cues. Your tone should also signal disapproval, which lends itself to that old saying, ‘it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it’. People will remember the tone and underlying energy vs. the words you actually say because it triggers them on an emotional level. Did that person feel sufficiently punished for offending you? Holding their beliefs to your standards can be a very powerful way to enhance a relationship for the better.
It’s okay to walk away from the healing process.
There’s nothing wrong with agreeing to disagree when you start to detect that a tinned fish conversation is moving in a high-conflict direction. Everyone is on their own journey in this life, and sometimes the person you are talking to lacks the capacity for better judgment. Exiting a conversation graciously can look something like “Well, sardines are plentiful in Portugal” or “How about those anchovies, though?” which shines a light on the humorous strategy of dissolving a conversation.
In the end, respecting the sardine-related wishes of your family members is not necessary, and may cause you to spiral into an emotional wasteland. Discussing foods that can get some people fired up can be a slippery slope but can also lead to better dietary regimens and grocery practices. What’s the worst that can happen? You’re standing there at your dog’s birthday party screaming, “From my perspective, you are evil!” and then the other person says, “But from my perspective, you’re the one who’s evil!” What could be more sardine-tastic than that?