If you’re anything like me, you’re someone who learns about a cause and wants everyone around you to learn—and care—about it with you. There are moments of realization (like discovering how harmful animal agriculture, fast fashion or single-use plastics are) that are so revolutionary to your lifestyle and leave you craving support and companionship—or simply wanting for others to be informed sooner than you were. However, when wanting to talk to those around us about the benefits of an environmentally friendly lifestyle, oftentimes our impassioned speeches do not translate or resonate with our friends and family.
So how do we talk about it? Where do we start? How do we make our loved ones understand that our lifestyle “isn’t a phase?”
It’s important to acknowledge that when you came to these conclusions, you came to them in your own way, time and space. Our friends and family aren’t always going to empathize with our environmental cause(s) unless they’ve had time to process how it affects them personally.
Here’s what worked for me in terms of communicating and connecting with others on my own eco-choices, while also encouraging loved ones to make some eco-swaps and positive lifestyle changes of their own.
Ten years ago, I first made the switch to living a (mostly) plant-based lifestyle.
Coming from an Eastern-European, sausage-and-potatoes kind of family, I didn’t know how my parents would react. At the time, I was concerned about how my hormone levels were being influenced by dairy and chicken. I knew that making the switch would lower my stress levels, decrease PMS and improve my skin—so that’s what I told them.
After that, I kept my distance and did my own thing; I performed all of my own grocery shopping, cooked for myself and gave my parents the space to observe and make their own judgements. Occasionally I would cook extras and offer them to my family, which actually inspired my mom to go plant-based for two years. My dad couldn’t be persuaded, but he continues to find and cook cool Polish-vegan recipes as a way to bond with me.
The key here was focusing on myself, my health and leading by example rather than needing to justify my “why.” Once they could see and process it, they were completely on board.
Household product swapsWelling Media
My mom is very particular about her laundry products and I was having trouble accepting the chemicals that perfumed detergent and dryer sheets were introducing to her clothes and into our water.
This household swap came down to a birthday gift and a conversation. I gave her the option of trying a natural detergent and wool dryer balls for a few washes; if she decided they didn’t work as well, I’d gladly take them off her hands. I made a little note about adding some lavender essential oil (her favourite scent) to the detergent and onto the balls—and she was hooked. Appealing to her existing interests and removing the pressure to commit to a big change brought us a more eco-friendly laundry experience.
This strategy can work for any product swap. If you find your family uses a lot of single-use plastic baggies, gift them some stainless-steel containers and let them know how much money they could save. My most recent swap was filmy plastic cling wrap for beeswax food wraps. My parents noticed they didn’t stick to one other the way Saran did and they haven’t looked back since.
Thrifting and sustainably shoppingBecca McHaffie
This switch came down to a compromise with friends.
At first, I would protest going to the mall, which just alienated me from my friends. I realized if I wanted them to care about my thrifting, I needed to show them that same respect. We ended up splitting our time between the mall and local thrift shops. Although they didn’t buy anything at the thrift shop, they admired my cool finds and had fun hunting with me.
Even if we don’t agree with others’ personal choices, we have to respect them to some degree, especially if we want them to hear us! Who knows? Maybe next time they’ll find that perfect piece for themselves.
It’s difficult to find a middle ground with activism, especially when we want others to feel motivated to make lifestyle changes or create new habits.
Instead of having a heated discussion which results in yelling or speaking over one other, find an angle that will work for that person. Send articles or books that they’ll like to read or ask permission before unloading a heavy topic onto them. I wanted to talk to my parents about environmental racism, so I invited my movie-buff dad to watch There’s Something in the Water with me.
Your family and friends love and want to support you, but they also want to feel respected and like they have a choice. Whether it’s the “right” choice in your mind or not, we have to give them space in order to be heard. Allowing space for questions, non-judgement, and being genuinely open to discussion will inspire more change than badgering or pressuring will. Once this non-judgemental trust is established, you’ll be surprised by what your friends and family might be open to. If they see you’re truly thriving in your eco-lifestyle, they’ll want a piece of that too.
PS: Ever consider your laundry waste?
Did you know that annually more than 750 million plastic laundry jugs end up in our landfills? Tru Earth has the solution.