“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” —Maya Angelou.
After you become any sort of of activist or stand for literally anything, people will find a way to poke holes in it.
I know because I’ve done it.
“Look,” I would say, “half our country is on fire, the other half is under water; I’m not going to break my arm patting you on the back for bringing your canvas bag to Whole Foods. We need to do better NOW.” And, to be fair, past Shannon wasn’t wrong (breaking my arm patting myself on the back as I type), we need to do better, but I could have packaged my message better.
But I’ve also been on the receiving end. A friend mansplained to me that I should never have children because it’s hypocritical as a environmental activist vegan. Again, he’s not wrong – having a child is the most carbon-intensive and environmentally-damaging actions humans take, because humans are so carbon-intensive and environmentally-damaging. But he could have packaged his message better.
The point is – while he may have been highlighting a cognitive dissonance in my *yet-to-be-determined future*, it didn’t make me think, it just made me roll my eyes.
So where do we go with our advocacy? Can we point out that 50% of plastic in our oceans is not from plastic straws but from fishing nets without being self-important, preachy schmucks? Can we?! I’m still trying to figure it out.
Everyone is on a journey to make the decisions that they believe line up with their values. We should respect that. But that does not mean that we need to shrink from being advocates.
Activists do not exist to make you feel more comfortable about choices that they know are causing harm. I’m not here to affirm your decision to order a hamburger as your “personal choice”, because I think you’re forgetting someone (namely, the cow). But, there are ways to discuss these topics that seek to understand, inform, and persuade without being a jerk. There are ways to point out hypocrisy (“I care about animals” but still eats animals) by engaging in discussion and asking questions, not by pointing fingers.
It’s a complicated dance. To make matters even more complicated, there’s the idea that neoliberalism has duped us into thinking that if we can stop using plastic water bottles we will save the planet from it’s inevitable extirpation. Instead of taking on corporate monsters, we have pitted individuals against each other.
Author, Martin Lukas, writes:
[T]he capitalist economy thrived on people believing that being afflicted by the structural problems of an exploitative system – poverty, joblessness, poor health, lack of fulfillment – was in fact a personal deficiency.
Neoliberalism has taken this internalized self-blame and turbocharged it. It tells you that you should not merely feel guilt and shame if you can’t secure a good job, are deep in debt, and are too stressed or overworked for time with friends. You are now also responsible for bearing the burden of potential ecological collapse.
All is not lost, however! Martin Lukas offers some hope:
The good news is that the impulse of humans to come together is inextinguishable – and the collective imagination is already making a political comeback. The climate justice movement is blocking pipelines, forcing the divestment of trillions of dollars, and winning support for 100% clean energy economies in cities and states across the world.
Ladies (and gentlemen) – it’s time to get in formation.
Yes, do the best you can – ride your bike, reuse, buy used clothing, avoid disposable plastics. But also, put major pressure on corporations. In a capitalist society, putting pressure involves not contributing money to industries you disagree with! It also requires us to CONNECT with our fellow humans and not to shame them for their views. And while it’s somewhat difficult and disconnected to challenge our inefficient recycling program in the US, or to put pressure on a coal-fired power plant, not giving money to meat and dairy industries is wholly within your purview every single day. It’s one of the only things that will actually make a difference AND is a decision only you can make.
One to change a few.
A few to change many.
Many to change the world.
Starts with one.
“Everyone has to find what is right for them, and it is different for everyone. Eating for me is how you proclaim your beliefs three times a day. That is why all religions have rules about eating. Three times a day, I remind myself that I value life and do not want to cause pain to or kill other living beings. That is why I eat the way I do.”
My point is – we are responsible for this world, and we owe to ourselves and to fellow humans to take care of it. We also owe it to our fellow humans to engage in respectful dialogue on ways we can make it better. By engaging curiously, not judgmentally, we open the door for people to keep pushing in their own lives.
I honestly learn a lot from folks I follow on social media. It’s how I discovered about fast fashion, using better language to describe race, feminist issues, and homelessness. And sometimes, people post things that makes me feel super defensive – that’s a light bulb that warrants a deeper dive on my part. All that to say, engaging with people on how you feel, regardless of what side your on, can make you feel uncomfortable. For example, someone posted a picture of a filthy river in India, colored purple from a clothing factory. The caption read, “How would you feel if you lived next to this river? If you contribute to fast fashion, you are part of the cause.” It made me feel selfish and defensive – “I’m doing the best that I can!” but once I got over that, I realized it was an easy switch to make. I buy used as much as I can, host clothing swaps with friends, and when I do need to buy something new, I try my best to look for ethical options.
Once you wake up, you can’t go back to sleep.
It’s great if you decide to give up plastic, but keep pushing. It’s amazing if you’ve cut down on dairy, but keeping researching! Our world depends on your curiosity and your ability to care. Don’t stop pushing to know more and do more and hold corporations like factory farms accountable. We can’t ignore some of the biggest injustices on our planet are due to corporate greed. But, as we live in a capitalist society, we can vote with our dollars for the world that we want!
This is a hugely complex topic – and I’ve barely scratched the surface. I would love to hear your thoughts impactful ways you have tried to lessen your negative mark on the world.
I’ll leave you with this quote from my favorite author:
“Humans are the only animals that have children on purpose, keep in touch (or don’t), care about birthdays, waste and lose time, brush their teeth, feel nostalgia, scrub stains, have religions and political parties and laws, wear keepsakes, apologize years after an offense, whisper, fear themselves, interpret dreams, hide their genitalia, shave, bury time capsules, and can choose not to eat something for reasons of conscience. The justifications for eating animals and for not eating them are often identical: we are not them.”