How to relate to your anti-vaxxer friend when you totally believe in science

Feb 11, 2015 at 3:24 p.m. ET

I wholeheartedly believe in science, most notably the science of vaccinations and the science of medicine. I have a very good friend who is an anti-vaxxer; she also happens to be a health food nut, not that there is anything wrong with that. This just makes for a very complicated friendship.

She balks at my food choices. Cheez-Its are a food group, right? She reminds me, constantly, that my moisturizer of choice is slowly poisoning me. She judges my admittedly excessive consumption of hot dogs, even though I spend extra for the kosher all-beef. Hello? They are nearly health food! And she is constantly sending me emails with links to articles published on various anti-vaxxer websites, ranging from the thoughtful to the completely outrageous. The common theme vilifies me for filling my children's bodies with government-sanctioned poison through vaccination. I, on the other hand, try to convince her to take her deprived kids for a nugget and milkshake every once in a while; it's not going to kill them. I also staunchly defend our country's vaccination program. And I firmly stand by the belief that life is too short, and my nose is too sensitive, for her to use a rock as deodorant. It makes conversations about our respective children's health rather touchy. We once went almost a year without speaking. We obviously made up but it has forced us to set some very clear boundaries.

The recent outbreak of measles has, once again, pushed us to these said boundaries. It's hard for me to talk to her about the outbreak without expressing frustration for the parents that chose not to vaccinate their children. It's hard for her to not be loudly defensive of her own choice not to vaccinate. But long ago, I decided to love her and respect her through our differing opinions, and she has done the same for me. Even though I think she is a science-denying nut job... and she has referred to me as a sheep in denial... we love each other just the same. Do you have a friend like this, opinionated but of the exact opposite opinion as you? Here are my tried-and-true tips for navigating these choppy friendship waters no matter which side of the aisle you currently stand on.

Keep it civil and factual

No one wins with name calling or personal judgments. The truth is, we all want the same thing, to do the best for our kids. There is no harm in sharing a link or discussing an article that highlights your point of view, but be thoughtful of what you share or discuss. If your intention is to spread helpful information, go for it. But you may want to ask yourself, what is your motivation? Are you just trying to instigate? There is nothing more personal, or important, than making decisions for the care of your child. Tread with care.

Keep an open mind

Try to listen, or read, with an open mind. It is easier to have respect for and relate to your friend if you employ a strategy of empathy; truly try to see how the world looks from their point of view. While you might never agree, fostering an environment of understanding is essential for the health of your friendship.

Agree to disagree and avoid

It is perfectly acceptable to agree to disagree. Express to your friend that while you value her point of view, you have come to a place where you aren't going to change your mind, and respectfully request she stop sending you information or instigating conversations on the topic. It will likely feel incredibly inauthentic but sometimes, in the interest of keeping the peace, this may be your only option. If you find that you are escalating to the point of one or both of you leaving an interaction with hurt feelings, it is definitely time to put the kibosh on discussions. At least for a while.

It is completely possible to maintain a friendship with someone that has polar opposite opinions from you. I would even argue that it enriches your life. I definitely always try to keep an open mind. And I have even learned a thing or two from my dear nut-job friend. But I will never, ever give up my hot dogs.

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