The world as we know it is under attack
Between oil spills, harmful agriculture practices and excess commercial use of plastic, we’re watching the planet crumble right before our eyes. With the increase in helplessness comes an increase in shaming. We’re finding more eco-influencers sharing information through shaming tactics, but does that really work in creating a better, more just planet?
The purpose behind shaming
When people feel helpless, or when they feel like they’ve been making the “wrong decisions” for their entire lives, they want to spare others the same fate.
Most people, when they first learn that something in their lives has been detrimental to the planet, want to cut it out cold turkey. They dive into researching the “hows” and “whys” and become enthralled in that world. They become so taken with this new information that they want everyone around them to know about it and follow them on this new journey.
Whether it’s intentional or not, shame creeps in. Shame that they’ve felt for participating in anti-eco behaviour, so they feel the moral need to change others too. This shame comes from a good place, but ultimately can do more damage than good.
The backlash of eco-shaming
Anyone who has gone through any radical change, knows that it’s only a matter of time before it snaps the other way. It happens with diet culture, with trends—and it happens with drastic eco changes.
Dramatic life changes, like altering your diet to a locally and majority plant-based diet, is a habit, and habits take time. Through this time, you have to slowly figure out what’s good for you, and what works best for your lifestyle. Pushing someone to change too quickly or to give up an “unhealthy habit” only encourages them to do it in the dark instead of publicly.
By shaming someone for a habit, you’ve now become an unsafe space for them to come to you with questions. It discourages this person to approach you to discuss these life changes that they may feel confused about it. Shame inherently attacks the person, and not the behaviour, which makes them hide away from it or not admit it.
It’s almost impossible to be part of every movement, or to know about every eco change to make in our lives. So, how do we invite and encourage people to be part of a movement without demanding them to be an expert in it?
Be an example, not a judge
It can feel really discouraging to see your friends or family glossing over environmental dread and not making changes. Shaming them into changes may work for a while, but how long do these tactics last, and what are the lasting impacts on your relationship?
I like to think about those who’ve inspired me versus those who have instilled fear or shame in me in the past. Those who approached environmental movements with anger or guilt tactics have caused me to overperform, seek their approval, and eventually I’ve avoided them and their motives. Those who created genuine change in my life were those who were living the movement and were passionate and inspiring. They didn’t push information down my throat; they showed me what they did, how it worked for them, and inspired me to implement changes in my own life. They led by example, and showed how eco-changes could fit into my own life and how they could meet me where I was.
Education through empathy
If you want to instill change in others, lead by example!
- Meet people where they’re at: if you’re vegan and want your family to try vegan foods, cook them a delicious plant-based meal. If you’re an activist and your friends didn’t show up to your rally, find out why and see how you can make adjustments that are inclusive for all. Meeting people where they’re at will encourage them to come to you, feel safe, and try to make positive changes in their lives.
- Understand conscious and unconscious motives: There could be a deeper reason why someone couldn’t make a change or shift in their lives. Listen to those reasons without an ulterior motive (trying to change them). Genuine listening and understanding will, once again, make people feel safe around you, and try to make changes based on their lifestyles.
- Be gentle, empathetic and respectful: Everyone is trying to unlearn and relearn as best and as fast as they can, but there’s only so far each person can go. If they’re showing up in your space to learn, give them a reason to stay, and give them a motive to come back. People respond to empathy and kindness while learning; they don’t appreciate feeling inferior or uneducated.
- Be an example, not a judge: Nobody is perfect, and we can’t expect perfection of others if we can’t uphold it ourselves. Exterior shame comes from interior shame, so also be easy on yourself. You’re doing enough, and if you spread a bit of love and understanding around the eco-movement (including to yourself), you’d be surprised to see how much greater change will spark from a million little actions.