We create an impact when we use our words carefully,
We also create an impact when we don't.
Every conversation is a chance for you to decide what impact you wish to create.
Welcome to my blog!
Maybe you are new to the idea of sustainable living and are looking to break some stereotypes of what it means to be an environmentalist. You probably felt like it hasn’t been your cup of tea and a sustainable lifestyle is too selfless an act for an average person.
Or perhaps you are already living sustainably, and you are reading this as an opportunity to get another perspective on environmental issues for better communication.
If you’ve had a conversation where you felt the need to inject compassion for the environment into someone, but it just didn’t work, you might be administering the wrong dose. You may have personally experienced the satisfying moment when a person in your life begins to make the sustainable switch. But in most cases, our conversations turn into heated debates with no consequence.
And since so many of us seem to be getting it wrong, including myself in the past, it’s time to deep-dive into what can be considered an effective approach.
SAVE THE WORLD VS SAVE YOURSELF
We often hear phrases like
“Save mother earth, she needs help”
“The environment needs to be rescued.”
“Do something for the Planet”
These are phrases that can evoke fleeting sympathetic emotions easily. But does this work for everyone? In reality, we feel compassion for a few minutes, and the rest of our lives are ruled by our survival mode. You might ask, shouldn’t be concerned about our own well-being, push more people into living consciously?
The truth is, even in our interpretation of survival, we aren’t focusing on our basic necessities such as food, water and air.
But we are always in a survival mode when it comes to social and impulsive needs. Surviving a food craving, surviving the need to always look impeccable, surviving anxiety that is built by social expectations. Most of the bad decisions we make that “harm the planet” (in reality, harm us) stem from this misguided sense of survival.
Long before I went zero waste, I considered myself to be a kind, compassionate person and even at that point I felt I was doing the best I could “for the environment”. In reality, it was never even a question I asked myself. I just lived a peaceful life, making sure I didn't bother anyone else.
The sustainable way of living personally triggered me just when I got the right plan of action & information. The benefits and rewards I got from the lifestyle, made me continue this journey. My love towards this planet wasn't inspiration enough to change my actions for the past 22 years of my life, though it does seem like that should have been the case.
Albeit I made this decision based on what my common sense told me, I had people telling me how passionate I must be about the environment. This confused me, because it was like explaining how passionate I have been about living or breathing. What I'm passionate about is helping others realise this is truly common sense.
So trust me when I say this, save your energy if you’re trying to get empathy for the planet out of everyone.
Being sustainable shouldn’t be displayed as an act of noble kindness and a great selfless deed done for the planet. It must be recognised as a selfish right to survive, that can bring you good health & prosperity in your own lifetime. And these are survival skills you would want to pass down to future generations if you wish a good life for them.
To be bluntly honest, aren't we all just learning to save ourselves, by “saving the planet”?
Please note that; It is okay to use “save the planet” as a metaphor, but it is dangerous to get carried away and judge people based on their affinity towards nature. Which also brings me to my next topic
NATURE LOVER VS AVERAGE JOE
Have you ever compared yourself to someone else’s compassion for nature and felt you’re not intrinsically inspired enough? You are not alone. This might be the result of the general stereotypes associated with environmentalists that we are constantly consuming from media. A tree-hugging, simple, hippie life that barely ever looks fun for most of us.
Yes, we can’t deny positive stereotypes; environmentalists love greenery & plants. It’s an unavoidable outcome of enjoying the wonders of nature. We all love anything that can suck carbon out of the atmosphere.
But we can also be just another city-loving, luxury indulging, corporate working person who stumbled across a sustainable lifestyle. We could have decided to adopt a new way of living simply because it seemed sensible to our personal growth. We should have the freedom to tailor it to our personality.
You don’t always need an “emotional backstory” justifying why you are in love with nature, to start your journey to sustainability. There's no need to fit into a stereotype, to make a smart decision.
In today’s day and age, barely anyone living in an urban city life has the opportunity to feel connected to nature. Then how does one make any sense of their intention to live consciously?
I’m just the average joe who grew up surrounded in concrete city jungles. I like cats, I’m a social media addict, I’m an introvert, I like taking a vacation in nature, I hate mosquitoes, I’m a nerd and I enjoy being thrifty.
Frankly, I challenged myself to go zero-waste one fine day as I thought it would be pretty cool to feel like I had more power over my life.
Even today when someone asks me what triggered me to start this journey, I genuinely wish I had a romantic story.
I wish I could tell them it was the turtles that became the tipping point. But honestly, that wasn't the case.
Progress in changing minds can also look like this:
Get an average person to a place where they can admit “It just sounds a bit difficult” rather than having them give up saying “being sustainable is not my thing because I'm not passionate about the environment like you”.
Instead of feeling like a monster for not loving the planet enough, they can now just worry about their will power to alter a habit.
GUILT tactics VS Fair Competition
There is nothing wrong with a person not being able to afford sustainable products. On the other hand, it is deeply troubling that we live in a time where sustainability is being pandered to a largely privileged audience.
Granted there is a lifestyle revolution happening with slow living and minimalism that encourages people to buy less and sustain more. But until it becomes mainstream, sustainable consumers need to realise they are fighting an uphill battle against unsustainable brands that have been around for decades and are easily accessible to the market today.
I may personally make the choice to invest in a slightly more expensive product to align with my values, knowing how I have balanced it by reducing my other needs. But not everyone can make that change. I need to be grounded enough to get a reality check on someone else’s financial needs and social conditioning. Personally, I might offer to gift a close friend an Eco-friendly product, who look like they might need a nudge to get started.
When it comes to consumer habits, a green revolution works most effectively when the new product competes with the existing one on the shelf, in terms of
Even if a single one of these factors is missing, resolving to guilt tactics is not the answer. It might work for the Early adopters and Innovators. However, the laggards and late adopters may feel disconnected from the product and try to justify their inability to prioritise sustainable benefits.
The psychological green revolution isn’t going to happen in a day, and until then we must take the responsibility of influencing the consumer demand game.
FUTURE OF OUR CHILDREN VS IN OUR LIFETIME
One of the most effective ways to get people to understand the gravity of climate change is by explaining how it has already changed our lives in the present day and age.
At the risk of sounding despondent, drought-affected areas are increasing, half of the world’s geography has desertified, major cities globally are declaring Day Zero in the near future for lack of water resources, storms are getting stronger and floods more frequent, more forest fires occurring now than ever, and I'm not surprised by the drastic rise in cancer cases thanks to the quality of the food that we eat. Despite all this, we still haven’t seemed to hit the emergency button.
We normalise the slow torture of climate change & get numb to it in the present, all the while waiting for a movie-worthy apocalyptic scene to hit us in the future.
An example of how we think of climate change as a futuristic issue is a conversation I remember having with my close family relative:
“Our time is up, beta, I can’t follow any tips on being sustainable now. This is not our problem to deal with, we are too old. You kids can do it better, it gives me so much hope”.
“I didn’t know you were planning to leave for the spirit world tomorrow”
“well, then how long do you plan on living?”
“at least another 30 years”
“ then it IS your problem to deal with too”
A sense of generational ignorance amongst governments and big corporations has currently given birth to protests such as Friday’s for future, Extinction rebellion, Sunrise Movement, Birth strike movement and Global climate strikes.
We can surely take matters into our own hands as youngsters, but it is crucial that we make the older generation understand the climate crisis as well. They are still a significant portion of the world’s population and hold many executive powers in politics and businesses. They are consumers and voters whose demands shape policy matters. Our minds are not developed to handle an issue as big as a civilisation collapse. Empowering them is integral to tackling climate change.
When environmental topics come up at home, practice having this conversation with calm patience & rational humour. Everyone is concerned about themselves, which by default means they are capable of being concerned about the environment. Get real and make them see how it affects them personally in their own lifetime.
While it feels like most of us are convinced by compelling logic, it is our core feelings that make all the decisions for us, before the justification sweeps into our minds. We associate human values with a visual of the person who follows them. We then link our opinion of the person to our opinion of the value system they follow.
A moment of private contemplation can do a lot of good. Most people who try to live eco-consciously know how it benefits them. Our language or approach is a tool in making sure we can effectively empower every normal person to make changes, rather than guilt them. The latter only serves to push them further into becoming cynical loudspeakers of the society.
Always assume that the person before you cares about the environment when you begin a discussion, they just aren't equipped the way you may have equipped yourself with experience. When you live Eco-consciously, you become a living example of what the future looks like for everyone around you. Ensure that future is inclusive and full of joy.
Sources and references :
Power of persuasion (highly recommended watch)
Innovation Adoption Cycle