Can and Should Environmentalists Change the Ones They Love?
"The people you love should'nt try to change you. They should just take you on a 6 month road trip around the US, have you meet random people from the internet who kill things at a swamp in the middle of the night..."
These are the thoughts of Mirra—the camera-wielding, vegetarian half of The Perennial Plate—whose foodie road trip around the US has explored a halal slaughterhouse in Queens, trapping and killing feral pigs in Texas and rooftop farming and community gardening in New York. It's all part of an essay she just posted on the nature of change, and how opening ourselves and others up to new experiences is the most effective way of growing as individuals.
It's an important read.
I argued a few weeks back that green lifestyle choices will never save us, and that there is a danger of getting distracted by I-am-greener-than-you-are pissing contests when our real challenge is creating lasting, significant change on a systemic level. And yet most of us greens do countless things every day to cut our own impact. And most of us also fail to do things we probably should.
And it does matter. Ultimately cultural change is made up of billions of individual actions.
Each time we eat veggies instead of meat or dairy. Each time we turn out the lights. Each time we bike instead of drive, or work from home instead of commuting, or pee outside in our yard—we are contributing to shifts that are bigger than we might know.
But how do we profligate such changes beyond our own lifestyles without becoming proselytizers or hypocrites? How do we not lose sight of the fact that individual actions are relevant primarily as a contributing factor to a systemic whole?
Again, as is so often the case, it comes down to leverage and relative effort. While I remain convinced—as I argued in my post on the art of the eco-argument—that nagging strangers about reusable bags is a regressive step that does more harm than good, there is also some evidence to say that nagging loved ones (and specifically, nagging girlfriends) can be agents for positive change. So if you pick your battles wisely, there's probably no harm in asking your loved one to turn out the lights or try a damn veggie burger for a change.
But what Mirra's post outlines so well is that if we really want to change, the best thing we can do is to get excited about it—and to get others excited too. In doing so, we open ourselves up to a richer, happier life. And we might just find those we love opening up too.