It’s Enviro-Mama Thursday here at Strocel.com, and today I’m thinking about environmentalism and etiquette, and how the two collide and inform each other.
Human beings are social creatures, there’s no two ways about it. As social creatures, we spend a lot of time and energy working to get along with each other. We do things like wait our turn at the bank, bite our tongues when casual acquaintances express political views we disagree with, and say please and thank you. Those of us who are parents spend a lot of time trying to teach our children good manners. I’ve been known to say, for example, “I’m okay with you having a cookie, but I need to hear you ask nicely, because it makes me feel better about the whole thing.”
When it comes to displaying good etiquette ourselves, environmentalism can cut both ways. On the one hand, as many green choices become not only respected but expected, our desire to get along with others reinforces green options. An example of this would be recycling. Where I live recycling is just an accepted part of everyday life. If you saw someone throwing a recyclable container into a trash can, you’d probably shoot them the same sort of dirty look you’d shoot someone who littered or failed to clean up after their dog. There are many other examples of green living that are becoming a normal part of modern life, like carrying reusable bags to the grocery store or not leaving your car idling in a long line-up.
On the other hand, there are many situations when our desire to get along and our desire to make more sustainable choices can collide. Let’s say, for instance, that you feel strongly about reducing your exposure to pesticides. What do you do when your neighbour’s out spraying weeds in her driveway? And what do you do when you’re on a playdate and someone serves you (and your kids) conventionally-grown apples, even though you know they have the highest pesticide residues of any fruit or veggies? How do you make the best choices for yourself, without becoming preachy or imposing your values on others?
I don’t think there are easy answers on this one. To be perfectly frank, this is something I constantly wrestle with. I’m not likely to sweat the conventionally-grown apples, but I do run into many situations where my desire to live as sustainably as possible collides with my desire to get along with others. And this doesn’t only happen outside of my own home – I live with other people. While I would say that everyone in my family holds sustainability as a value, we differ on what matters most to us, and where we’re willing to draw the line between convenience and the planet. No one’s the “good guy” and no one’s the “bad guy”, but that doesn’t mean we always see eye-to-eye.
As more and more people make more and more sustainable choices, the balance between good manners and green living shifts. I think that’s a good thing. But I don’t think it will ever be super-easy. Change almost never is. And so I try to respect my personal values that say values like kindness, generosity and consideration are important. I also try to respect my values that say I want to live lightly on the earth. And sometimes, I think, I maybe even get it right.
What about you? Do you ever struggle with balancing your own environmental choices with your desire to get along with others? And does pushback from the people around you ever make it harder for you to live sustainably? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.