I’m not an Environmentalist. I’m an Antisufferist.
Someone lately addressed me as an “Eco-Friendly Type”, and it caught my attention because I’m not. I’m a “Prevent-Suffering Type”. That I’m focused on climate change has less to do with environmentalism than with a desire to shield loved ones from too much pain. If I thought whales were the biggest threat to my loved ones, I’d kill the whales.
I’m a normal bloke who had four months last year (thank-you recession) to study world events and who came to understand that climate change is more threatening than most people know, even those who’re nervous about it. You may have noticed increasing numbers of people like me. Worry is no longer limited to environmentalists because it’s no longer a theoretical problem. Turns out it’s real and bad. Oops.
That someone thinks I’m eco-friendly suggests a) I’ve failed to communicate, and b) I’m categorized in a file in his head that will keep it that way. My words will be thought irrelevant to his non-eco life, and therefore ignorable.
There are two mutually-reinforcing chicken-and-egg problems here:
- Unless you’re focused on climate change, you’re not going to give it enough attention to see what’s happening, you’ll keep ignoring it, and you won’t see why others are possessed by it.
- If you come to fully understand the problem, those who don’t understand it will categorize you as someone hysterical over a non-problem, so you lose credibility in the moment you start needing it.
All this is compounded by the timescale over which it’s unfolding: we’ve been talking about it for ages, and although some bad things have happened (20 million displaced Pakistanis last summer), nothing has truly gotten our attention yet. So it feels not-so-bad even if recent research suggests our feelings are misguided (research which, it should be noted, can make “An Inconvenient Truth” seem like the Care Bears™ Movie). So it’s easy to ignore worriers.
I don’t blame the fellow who mistook me. We’re all the same. He’s a normal person with normal cognitive habits and the onus is on me to find some way to communicate around them. I’m new to this game so I fail.
So. To get through to others you must avoid ending up one of their ignorable mental categories. How do you do it? I’m probably not the one to ask, but here’s my thinking:
- Be like the people with whom you want to communicate. For example, there are Christian Evangelicals dedicated to fighting climate change, and I bet other Christians are more willing to listen to them than they are to say, oh, Al Gore. To an Evangelical, a liberal environmentalist may as well be a sea cucumber, but another Christian is someone worth listening to. So you have two choices: a) to communicate with a group of which you’re not a part, don’t go it alone. Partner with someone who is a member of the group and make her the lead; or b) Make it your mission to communicate with groups with which you already identify. Are you a police officer? Nurse? Military vet? Whatever group you’re in, you understand how its members think because you are one. You know their concerns. So, for example, let’s say you and your friends are into foreign policy. Try showing them this. Underlying everything you say will be the message “My concerns are yours. We value the same things. We want the same things.”
- Focus on people who already respect your opinions. Make a list of them. Try to inspire them to action first. Build a coalition from there.
- Watch your language. This is an idea I haven’t put in to practice very well. Different people use language in different ways. If you don’t want to be categorized as a certain kind of person, avoid words associated with that kind of person. For example, some people are calling themselves “Climate Hawks” to break ties with the Birkenstocks-and-Granola theme that dominates perceptions of environmentalists. Of course, a simple change in what you call yourself isn’t enough – you must watch everything you say. As I say though, I struggle to live by this dictum. For example, I don’t want to be dismissed as “hysterical” or “alarmist”, but I believe there is a grave and urgent problem. How do I avoid hysterical/alarmist language in communicating my belief? I don’t know. If you’ve got a suggestion, I want to hear it.
- Earn respect. Don’t be rude. Listen. Don’t be dismissive. Being heard is a privilege, not a right.
-From the Sea
Posted December 30, 2010 in Random Thoughts | 2 Comments on I’m not an Environmentalist. I’m an Antisufferist.