Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Green guilt and proselytizing

In yesterday's NY Times, there was an article, Green but Still Feeling Guilty, about how environmentalists who "cheat" and use things like a power boat or disposable diapers feel guilty about their choices.

I have written about it here a bunch of times how we are not all perfect and we all do things that aren't perfect, but why should we feel guilty? The majority of the population doesn't seem to have this problem as evidenced by the apathy out there, so why should those of us going out of our way to be aware of and doing something about environmental issues be the ones that feel guilty?

I think it has more to do with the fact that our excuses and justifications for not doing something are just that - excuses. We know deep down that we could or should do it, we just choose not to for a variety of reasons. Convenience is the top excuse, but they run the gamut from an eco-friendly substitute not "working as well" to other reasons that sound good but are still surmountable like, "I have allergies" or "I don't have time".

This guilt oftentimes spills over into trying to convince others to make lifestyle changes. And by that I mean that it is a tactic many use to try to make others change their behavior. And, for the most part, it just flat out doesn't work. It puts people on the defensive and any opportunity you had in suggesting an alternative is lost.

It's the same thing with adult parent/child relationships. The second your parent tells you what to do, whips out the old, "you should", or lays in with a guilt trip, what's the usual response? "Yeah, you are sooo right!" Not in my experience.

I'm not one to try to foist lifestyle change on others, I think that's the wrong way of going about it. Guilting people into change is the surefire way of preventing them from changing. Offering them the information and the chance to try something new is far more effective than bashing someone over the head with guilt. Projecting any environmental guilt onto others is almost as bad as the holier-than-thou approach.

So, if you are feeling guilty about some of your choices, examine why. Are your excuses truly legitimate? If so, then let the guilt go. If not, then decide whether it's something you feel strongly enough about to purse, otherwise let it and the guilt go. And pledge to revisit it another time or don't look back. It's not worth your mental and emotional energy.

Do you feel guilty about doing something you know is bad for the environment, and how do you handle it?


Anonymous said...

I don't proselytize. Ever. I grew up in the South and I've had enough of that on all fronts; I'm not about to put anyone else through it for any reason.

I used to feel guilty for not using exclusively cloth with my 2nd, who came after my green enlightenment. I don't anymore because I do think it was legitimate as we had so many issues with her and she was high needs as hell and everything got to be too much. Of course there are other things I do feel bad about, but that was a big one.

Kim said...

I feel guilty for using paper napkins. unfortunately I am in high school and live with my parents so it's kind of up to them.

Hazel Spupspe said...

This is a great topic and something I have been thinking about lately - when, if ever, can I let myself off the hook for my actions, environmentally or otherwise? I feel guilty that I haven't gone back to using mass transit since my daughter was born. The car seems more convenient and safer than taking the baby on the bus. I don't know if that's true but that's how I rationalize it.

Greenpa said...

ok, taking the question sideways- Crunch, a week ago or so I had the huge privilege of having breakfast with an old professor; an internationally respected experimental psychologist/geneticist. He's long retired, about 75, going on 50. Amazing.

I put to him my own theory that Homo has an innate organismic requirement for a certain amount of misery/guilt. If we don't have any; we make it up.

He took the idea seriously, and was willing to take it as a good working hypothesis.

Somehow; we just seem to NEED to be unhappy about something, usually something that is in part our own fault. If you read the diaries of saints, etc, they're usually among the most guilt-ridden.

We're very strange primates. Do I feel guilty? Sure; but so do you, so na-na-na.


Unknown said...

I feel guilty about the amount of clothes that I buy. I am a clothes horse and always have been. I look for green alternatives to the regular mall choices around but I really wish I could be one of those people who decide on a "uniform", dress it up with cool accessories and are done shopping then.

I LOVE this site:!pilots

Maybe someday I'll be better.

Anonymous said...

I have learned that guilt can be a symptom of my strain of depression. I believe it's called a ruminative patern and it is basically a tendency to worry. It is also a frequent feature of ADD: the rumination is stimulative enough to allow my brain to focus on something. Focusing is pleasurable and something of a relief.

Even if your worry and guilt don't rise to pathalogical levels, I thing the same mechanisms may be at play. Guilt over disposable diapers is, as far as your brain is concerned, an "Eco" stimulus. Because of circumstance (real or imagined) you don't engage in a task and your brain can't take pleasure in doing said task. So it switches to guilt/ worry mode to get that stimulation. The fact that we get outside reenforcement from those who call us hypocrites when we fail (or even the perception of that phenomenon) makes guilt super stimulative. We get all those anxiety brain chemicals and physical reactions.

Crunchy, you really hit on something when you identified guilt as a source for prostellizing. What could be more stimulative than suplanting your guilt with the guilt of others. It crowds out all the shame with the much more pleasurable superiority. Plus you can find other like minded individuals and work together. Your brains will light up like Vegas!

This string of anonymous pontification brought to you by twenty years of cognitive behavior therapy. Said therapy (and meds) has been very helpful. I am a Christian and learning about my faith in a progressive, forgiving environment has also been great. I've found the two complement each other: I understand some of the mechanisms that lead so many Christians to become badly behaved and I'm able to read the Bible outside of the guilt/shame paradigm. Conversely, my faith gives comfort that I will always be forgiven and lends authority to my decision to forgive myself.

Katy said...

Yeah as a person who lives in the Bible belt, I think there is enough guilt going around that I don't need to add to.

That said I've been feeling guilty about using a dryer when I do my laundry. When your "line dry challenge" came up and I actually sat and thought long and hard about my alteritives.

I don't have my own washer/dryer. I have to go to a laundry mate that is pretty far away from my house. The thought of halling four loads of wet clothes home just does not appeal. Sorry, not doing it. Why? It grosses me out beyound all reason. I have worms eating scraps in my kitchen, why are wet clothes gross to me? I don't know, but they are and for now that's a line I'm not crossing.

Aimee said...

The number of things I feel h]guilty about is soooo long.... not line drying even when it's sunny out.... eating more meat than we should (even though it's local grass fed, etc) ... driving more than I should (even though the car runs on homebrew biodiesel)... the occasional frozen pizza... hiring someone to scrub the floors instead of doing it myself.... bananas and citrus fruit....

I agree with Greenpa - some of us at least just seem wired for guilt. I try to cut myself a break now and then and remind myself I'm doing a pretty good job most of the time. Then maybe I can use the residual guilt to spur more changes. There's really no reason not to line dry on a day like today....

oh except I broke my back. That's a good excuse. Whew!

The Nurturing Pirate said...

I feel guilty about not composting. I cook mostly from scratch, so I have lots of food scraps from prepping meals.

I don't even have any legitimate excuses. I have, not one, but TWO modes of compost available to me - worm bin (except no worms yet) AND a regular bin in the backyard! I'm pretty sure it's just laziness on my part. The schlepping of the scraps to aforementioned bins is not high on my list of things I want to do. ;-)

It was one of my 2010 New Year's resolutions, along with eating more seasonally (which I've been consistent with for the whole year, so I feel good about that). Guess I've got about 3 months left to get my butt in gear...

ruchi said...

You know, I was going to write a long comment about the millions of things I feel guilty for (the truth is because I fly fairly often, I am like the least green person ever and none of my hand-wringing over paper towels, etc can off-set that.)

But I've changed my mind. I was just thinking, after reading Greenpa's post, that maybe guilt is GOOD.

There have been a lot of studies about how if we make things more energy efficient, people just use more of it. (For example if you insulate the house better, people just turn around and turn the thermostat up more.) Basically, the idea is that the efficiencies we gain are offset because we just USE more.

So maybe the guilt is good. The guilt is there to remind us that NOTHING OFFSETS OUR FLYING, so don't feel good about yourself for taking public transit every day.

The guilt reminds us not to judge. The guilt pushes us beyond our comfort zone. The guilt precludes us from thinking, "It's okay if I drive to the store as long as I buy organic."

And sometimes, as you point out, the guilt makes us realize that our excuses are just excuses.

So I say, embrace the guilt. Guilt is good!

Jezamyn said...

I live about 45 minutes from the Chicago and for a while was going there about every weekend for socializing. And frankly would again if I had the childcare. Once in a while id take the train out, but trains in non-rush hour times are quite sparse and also don't run late at night.

I'm also visiting Seattle for the first time this month. A friend is flying me out just because for a weekend (because I have 5 kids as a single foster mom and could use a short break!) Soo not ecofriendly... but I am considering moving to the Pacific Northwest eventually and would like to visit the area to get a feel for things.

Farmer's Daughter said...

Well the good thing is that I've never had the impression, in the years of reading your blog, that you were making me feel guilty. I have tried new things because of you (Diva Cup to name one) and have always found your challenges fun and challenging :)

I'm too busy feeling guilty about being a working mom now, so I no longer have time for environmental guilt. I do the best I can!

Lisa Nelsen-Woods said...

I have another theory about green guilt - that the person who is publicity flogging themselves for eating a chicken nugget or whatever is actually using it as a form of bragging, "The I can't believe I, Green Savior of the Earth, did this one nongreen thing, please pity me even thought I'm better and greener than you and everyone I know."

I grew up with someone who used guilt as a powerful weapon. I refuse to let someone make me feel bad because I follow the 80/20 rule. Now that I'm long gone from my Heathers-like high school I realize that life isn't a contest. 80% of the time I'm green and most times even more so. I refuse to give in to guilt because I'm not doing it the way someone wants me to be just like them. I'm doing what works for me and my family. I like to have options for doing the same thing so I don't have to pull the "woe is green me" crap. Sometimes, it's just better if you don't do something up to someone else's green standards to just own it without the guilt. For example: I ate a takeout gyro in aluminum foil tonight for dinner AND I LIKED IT. I also washed and recycled the foil :)

Erin said...

Just today I had to go to a grocery store (gasp, I haven't been to one in months) and buy a week's worth of convenience foods (my husband isn't known for his cooking skills and we have 3 boys). First time we've bought things that weren't local in a really long time. I'm having surgery on Tuesday that will put me down for an indeterminate amount of time. I understand that I've been exhausted from the disease and haven't been able to physically make a bunch of meals in advance and I found out about the surgery yesterday. I understand it all logically but I still felt bad putting my dollars into the hands of mega aggro business today. Though I do have to say that when I came home and put some of the things into my pantry and saw almost nothing there that I hadn't canned myself anymore ... I didn't feel quite so bad anymore.

One step at a time, self forgiveness along the way!

Aydan said...

I experience guilt over my travel miles. I don't have a car in the city, but I live several hundred miles away from home and fly back and forth several times a year. And, though I'd really like to move back home, the best educational opportunities are elsewhere... so I don't see this as changing any time soon. I've tried the train as an alternative; it's impractical.

Unknown said...

I don't really ever feel guilt. I figure guilt is a sign that I've done something I know is wrong. So either after examination I decide my actions aren't wrong, or I fix what I've done/stop I'm doing. I just don't repeatedly do things I think are wrong. But I think you're right, green guilt is what people feel when they do something they think is wrong and they know they don't have a good reason. I read that article too and I thought a lot of their excuses were really lame. Of course, I don't know the details of their lives but the fact that they're feeling guilty leads me to believe they have the means and opportunity to make a different choice. Sometimes doing the right thing is not as easy as doing the wrong thing but "that's hard" is not a valid excuse. I'm getting very very tired of people saying that they do things which damage the environment, take away from others, and so forth because it's convenient or they don't want to give up their whatever. At this point, I'm kind of like "deal with it!" I don't care if you're selfish and you want a soft life at the expense of the rest of us... that is not a good reason to consume more than your share of resources. So, I suppose in the end, I'm glad they feel guilty. Hopefully that feeling will propel them to change their actions and the guilt won't become the penance that relieves them of their feelings of hypocrisy.