How to change the world in 5 easy steps

Posted: September 2, 2010 in Uncategorized
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Image via flickr

Yesterday, my roommate walked into our kitchen with her boyfriend after buying a bunch of groceries.  As they unpacked, my roommate pulled out a bag of Shared Planet Starbucks coffee.  “It said it was better for the environment, and I thought of you, so I got it.”  I had to stifle the brightest smile.

Maybe it’s not the biggest deal in the world.  Hell, maybe coffee is just hopelessly eco-unfriendly.  Maybe “Shared Planet” is just a feel-good Starbucks marketing ploy.  But as I sat in our kitchen, I felt like maybe I am making a difference in people’s lives, and my little drop in the environmentalism/human rights/veganism bucket is encouraging others to

put a little drop in, too.  I stifled the urge to dance about the kitchen and rejoice over the possibility of an eco-convert.  Instead, I applauded and affirmed her choice, mentioning a little bit about coffee and its often negative effect on the environment and the people who produce it.

You know how this feels.  It’s great when a friend starts recycling, your lover orders a veggie burger instead of a steak, or your parents buy a hybrid.  Here’s how to get that feeling more often.

1. Practice what you preach.  If you throw a cigarette butt out the car window while making a point about environmental consciousness, the medium obscures the message.  For me, practicing what I preach means that I recycle, I use reusable containers when I go to the store, coffee shop, or restaurant, I don’t eat meat or animal by-products, I buy used or green items, and so on.  Of course, I am not perfect in my choices.  I bought my car five years ago, after I had fallen off the vegetarian wagon, and it has leather seats.  If someone mentions it, I own up to it.  We all make mistakes.

2. Practice more than you preach. It is a wise and true cliche that “actions speak louder than words.”  Moreover, we are so resistant to advertising and evangelizing in this culture.  We’ve all had too many Jehovah’s Witnesses show up at our doors and too many telemarketers calling our homes, so we have hardened ourselves to direct overtures.  I know I have.  When someone comes at me with an agenda, I turn off, regardless of the merit of that agenda.  Does this mean that you can’t speak your mind?  Of course not.  But try to do more than you say.

3. Let them come to you. People will notice that you live your life differently, and they will ask you about it.  Allow this to happen.  I would hate to turn people off of veganism or recycling because they associate those actions with a shrill voice and a disapproving stare.  Maybe they will go to a vegetarian restaurant with you or ask you to show them how to compost.  Maybe we can have a Field of Sustainable and Cruelty-Free Dreams.  If we build it, they will come, right?

4. Allow people to ridicule you or get angry.  A little. Whoa, the strident feminist blogger wants us to submissively turn the other cheek?  Sort of.  I think that when people are on the verge of making a big mental leap, some serious cognitive dissonance starts bubbling up.  Rather than dealing with their self-defense mechanism in kind, with more ridicule or anger, I say let it fizzle out.  Treat these people with kindness and respect.  Don’t belittle their feelings, or condescend to them.  Strive for empathy.  If someone crosses a boundary, for example calling you stupid or silly, sure, call them on that, but stay calm.  A quiet, good-natured but firm”I don’t think that’s stupid at all” can be very powerful.

5. Inform nonchalantly, and always leave ’em wanting more. When someone asks me a question about a near and dear cause, I try to reign in my enthusiasm a bit.  I can go on and on for hours about the causes I am passionate about, and I know so much about them that I can spout statistics and anecdotes and arguments until someone wishes that they had never even heard the phrase “cage-free” or “free-range” or “post-consumer.”  If you are like me, an effusive Vesuvius of passion and knowledge, try to tone it down a bit so you don’t overwhelm your friends.  Give them the Cliff’s Notes version and encourage them to learn more on their own, perhaps offering a link or book to borrow.

6. Bonus step!  Bake vegan cupcakes. Sometimes people don’t want to make changes because they don’t want to miss out.  So buy adorable eco-friendly onesies for your friends’ baby showers and bring along some delicious vegan cupcakes to boot.  Have fun and be funny.

  1. […] am only one person, and I can only do so much.  One thing I can do is take this coming Thanksgiving day and make it a day that all creatures I […]

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