Friendly Activism – A kinder way to make a difference
I’m in the supermarket picking up a packet of (organic) ham, the only thing I could stomach when I had exams at the time. I search for the bottom one because my exam is next week and I need the expiry date to last until then. A woman is glaring at me. I give her a mildly startled look as she exclaims “you know, if we all go for the freshest one everything would spoil. Organic or not.” I reply with a friendly “oh. You’re right! But I need it to last until next week for an event. :)”
She gives me a stern look and goes “well doesn’t that seem convenient.”
I go home feeling confused and a little sad – I was just trying to look after myself… wasn’t I?
Forcing change on others
The above anecdote is a clear example of a very unfriendly way to try and force change. I see it everywhere. Some vegans on instagram sharing -once again- the gruesome details of the dairy industry, in all caps, after I leave an encouraging reply on a post on reducing meat consumption. Someone arguing that all plastic is evil. Someone telling another person they don’t have the right to an opinion on the environment because they took a plane last year.
I get it, they feel powerless about the less-than-desirable state of the world. But I believe in a more open and understanding way to convince people of change. In this article I will explore some ways you can encourage without forcing your understanding on others; also known as friendly activism.
Getting angry doesn’t work
Anger is a natural tendency. It makes sense that with the coming of broadly accessible information we find a lot to be angry about, and we want something to blame. When you finally wake up to all the things that are going wrong with the planet, it’s hard not to get furious about the people that are driving it further into destruction. But I personally think that anger is misplaced – most people aren’t malicious in intention, they just don’t know any better; and if they do there might be a hundred reasons change is hard for them that you don’t know about or can’t understand.
A lot of the time, once we ‘change sides’, it’s easy to get an us-versus-them mentality. “You’re either with us, or you’re against us.” In reality this couldn’t be further away from the truth: there is no us or them. We are all part of the same species, of the same planet and we are all responsible for what happens to it; and I think most people are good in intention, just not in execution. Friendly activism is a term used for a softer, more encouraging approach.
Instead of forming green cliques we should try and see ‘good behavior’ more fluidly. Our experiences are all unique and we cannot live each others’ lives, therefore we can never truly understand someone else’s choices. I can’t imagine you can successfully bully someone into veganism, and if you can it will surely turn them into anxious and bitter people who will bully others the same way. I didn’t start changing my life when others were yelling at me to do so, I started changing my life when I finally softened up as a person and gave myself space for mistakes. We should all respect our differences and try to encourage positive changes that people make.
This doesn’t just go for the environment by the way – I think we could all ease up on each other, as hard as that is sometimes.
How to encourage without force
Encouragement is extremely important if we want to change the status quo. Others sharing the same goals will not only make a difference in our collective footprint on the earth – but also in big political changes, since we live in a largely democratic world.
A few ways you can gently encourage change in others:
- Allow questions without judgement
I find this one kind of hard, but it’s an extremely important one. If someone shows genuine interest in a topic, try to inform them as objectively and with as much kindness as you can muster.
- Don’t get angry
They’ve most likely seen things a certain way for most of their lives and it can be hard to break out of that. Don’t get mad if they are misinformed or don’t instantly agree with your information. The fact that they showed any interest in new or alternative information is a step in the right direction.
- Don’t be surprised if they feel attacked
The thing is, a lot of people get very angry and judgemental about people’s lifestyle choices. It makes sense some people feel like you’re already judging them before they’ve even spoken.
Of course I’ve also seen meat eaters despise vegans and even state they’re gonna eat more meat out of spite. Now, don’t get me wrong, that’s a terrible thing to do but if we want them to change their behavior we need to be the bigger person. Nurture the people that are showing interest and let the extremists sizzle out before you approach. Anger spreads anger and kindness spreads kindness.
- Offer small steps
For example, if someone eats meat every day (or multiple times a day), you could suggest they try to have meatless days every week. If it’s someone you’re close with you’re very likely to be able to give specific alternatives that are to their taste. I make Beyond Burgers for pretty much everyone I know because everyone is convinced instantly (I swear we’re not sponsored, they just taste so good!); we now tend to have quite a few of them at my dad’s barbecues.
- Consider their situation
Organic food is (relatively) expensive, so some people can’t afford it. Someone might have a bad hip and not be able to cycle. They might be too busy to cook every day. There definitely is a green premium and you should always consider individual situations before handing out alternative lifestyles (this goes for every topic, by the way).
- Show off green alternatives
I am very fond of this one, I do it all the time. I like to cook vegetarian or vegan for other people to show them that it can, in fact, be just as good – if not better.
Show off your pretty new reusable water bottle. Talk about how soft your organic cotton towels are. Boast about your latest DIY cleaning product. Making a green lifestyle cool is very important for its future (though blindly promoting ‘green’ products can also be a bad thing, but that’s a topic for another time).
These are a few ways you can try to get others to join the fight in saving the planet. It might seem small, but everyone did whatever seems manageable to them – it could have a huge impact. Showing someone kindness will make them show others the same kindness. One domino stone could could make all the others fall.
As always, also be kind to yourself and don’t get hung up on past mistakes. All you can do is your best in the current moment!