The trouble with preaching…

Written by an Anonymous Green Ranter

Is that it doesn’t work.  You tell me I should become a vegetarian for the good of the environment, all you do is alienate me from your cause – I tell you to “f*** off” inside my head.

I like to think I’m a reasonable, rational person who cares for other people and the world around me.  But as soon as someone tells me what I should be doing, it immediately gets my back up and makes me want to start an argument-for-arguments sake. That gets us nowhere.  I don’t think I’m the only person who feels this way.

I sincerely care about not ruining this world – I do lots of things within my own life to minimise my impact upon the planet. I would list them here, but they’re pretty boring and likely to sound rather preachy and I don’t want to be too hypocritical! For me, one key to making all this successful is just cracking on with it – if people ask me about it, great, but the day I tell someone what they should or must be doing is the day they stop listening to me.

I worked in homelessness services for 5 years, and you see this type of reaction all of the
time.  I’ll give an example, Colin (his name’s not really Colin, obvs) was an alcoholic.  He was physically dependent on alcohol, so he couldn’t just ‘stop drinking’ as it had huge implications for his health and could kill him.  He had a horrendous backstory of abuse and violence and was intent on numbing his mind so he didn’t have to constantly relive this.  I got to know Colin very well over the 5 years I worked there, and his journey was touching, frustrating, infuriating and tragic in equal measure.  Colin had been sober for an 18 month period, when he came back to the city after long stint in detoxes, followed by rehab and then a dry house.  Not sure if something happened to trigger his drinking again or if he got a serious case of the ‘f***-its’, but one drink led to another and within a couple of weeks he was back to full-blown shanting.  After a few weeks, he went to the doctors as his health was deteriorating. The Doctor told him to stop drinking and get sober again else he’d be dead within a year.  Did he stop drinking?  Did he heck.

Anyway, slight digression there.  I now work in a different area of behaviour change and
it’s well established in our world that you can’t just tell people what to do as they just won’t listen.  It’s like that old saying of ’you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’.  The best thing to do is to give them the information and the tools to make informed choices and then positive ‘nudges’ to make them think that it’s the best idea for them.  It sounds a bit manipulative, but let’s think of it as lovely, fluffy, friendly manipulation that will lead to a nice, smiley, happy life.

I was once told by one of my brother’s friends that ‘You can’t be an environmentalist if you eat meat’ – he at the time was a militant veggie… but now eats meat.  Hypocrisy much?!  Anyway, I naturally argued this (I promise I’m not as argumentative as I may sound!) as there are lots of other steps I take within my life to reduce and improve my impact on the environment.  I frequently don’t eat meat for a few days and on the whole buy meat from the local butcher (much cheaper, the money stays within the local economy rather than getting gobbled up by some multinational, better quality, AND they’re super friendly). But someone telling me I can’t eat meat if I claim to care about something?  Insert f-bomb here.

In my previous job, I completed an intensive course around recovery.  Previously I had treated recovery as a term for people trying to deal with an addiction to drink or drugs but it became much more than that.  Essentially, we’re all in recovery from the things that have happened to us in our lives and if we want to encourage others to come out of their comfort zones, we need to be prepared to do the same so we can relate to the fear and anxiety they are experiencing.  You really should stop taking crack.  F*** off.  You really must stop selling your body to pay for your heroin addiction. F*** off. If I have the right to tell them those things, I need to be prepared for people to say the same to me: you really don’t need that mojito. F*** off.  You can never eat chocolate again. Seriously, f*** off.

So, you can see that I think that preaching doesn’t work.

Another problem (and this is definitely something I was guilty of in the past), is that the
day you preach to someone else – seriously, you had better be whiter than white.  Organically whiter than white, using no harmful or toxic chemicals or nothing.  You put your head above the parapet telling everyone what a lovely, sustainable life you lead and that you are enough of an expert to be telling me what to do in my own life – seriously, there is no space to be human right here.  You have to be clean eating, zero carbon, no flights to lovely holidays abroad with no room whatsoever for hypocrisy else I will hunt that one tiny detail down and use it time and time again to discredit you and your arguments as in my head you are a massive hypocrite.

There’s a slightly crazy/eccentric dude that’s a veggie who wonders around my home city – he gives out leaflets, wears T-shirts with big letters with vegetarian messages and chats to people about the importance of reducing the amount of meat you eat, he’s in his mid-80s and he looks in his early 60s.  Although some might be put off by his approach, I find him quite an inspiration – he’s clearly committed to his cause, he gives me information so I can go off and figure things out for myself but has never told me what I should be doing. I respect that.  I can handle that.  He’s respectful of my own opinions and where I am.

I could well get there on my own.  It’s something I think about a lot, I might change, and then againI might not. Ultimately it is my decision, and that needs to be respected.  You tell me what to do, I will walk away and you will lose my attention.  You give me the information I require to make an informed choice, I am likely to come to the same conclusion and get there in my own time.

I heard a joke on some comedy podcast ages ago – “How do you know if someone’s a vegan? Cos they’ll fucking tell you all about it” – Michael Legg (he is a vegan, he knows about this stuff).

Go easy on the preaching and allow people to make their own choices.  I think and hope that most people are reasonable, rational beings (perhaps I live in a nice little bubble of my own) that simply don’t know about what’s going on with the world as they’re too distracted by buying shit and nice shoes.

They need to know this information, but it’s not your place to tell them what to do with it.


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