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Is It Too Overwhelming To Hear That You Need To Do More?

Overwhelming by Dave Pearson on Flickr

I am concerned about the state of the world, and for me, it’s extremely important to get others to do as much as they possibly can, and to help motivate and support them.

I see so many “green consumer” blogs, press releases (I get about 5 per day!), advertisements, and overall encouragement.  And to me, those often serve to let people off easily:  “you save the planet and by living your life just exactly as you do now, if you buy these couple of very important things!”

As Crafty Green Poet writes, “I think the idea of starting where people are at and giving them easy things to do is a great way to start but there has been research done that shows that campagins using this approach lead to people thinking that’s all they need to do.”

With the right support networks, many of us get past that stage of green consumerism and realize that we do have to change our lifestyles.  So we spend a lot of time restructuring our lives and redefining normalcy on a daily basis.  It’s incredible – that movement of living simply, sustainably, and/or frugally is growing every day!

But societal change has to happen on multiple fronts in order to fully succeed.  History has taught us that time and again:  personal changes are the beginning, but then there must be a movement that changes society, and laws and rules that secure it for good.

And so that brings me to believe that there is a continuum of change, and my idea behind this blog and particularly the last several posts I’ve written about doing more, is to capture anyone along that continuum and help push them forward, to the next level.

Belinda brought up an excellent point, however:  “if someone had told me at the beginning that to be sustainable I would need to be an active part of my community I probably would have walked away”- it would have been too overwhelming.  Stephanie wrote yesterday, “You’re asking too much from this overworked, tired, groggy introvert who doesn’t even know where to begin in her personal environmentalist efforts.”

I don’t think there’s room in our lives and time enough in the day to create change in your community at the same time that you start down the journey of personal lifestyle changes.  Have you found that?  I personally made lifestyle changes for a long time, and participated in voting and letter writing and other small, more peripheral things at the same time.  But it wasn’t until I felt I had more or less redefined normal on a foundational level in my own life, that I was able to move on to work within my community.  It is too overwhelming to start doing both at the same time.

And that is a part of the continuum of change, as I see it:

  1. Become aware.
  2. Buy greener products.
  3. Change your lifestyle at a personal, daily level.
  4. Work within your community to create change.
  5. Work globally to create change.
  6. Learn how to effectively and sustainably integrate each of these things into your daily lifestyle.

It’s difficult to move on to each next step without feeling at least somewhat like you have mastered the one before it.

Does this continuum ring true from your own experience?

Ruchi addresses this in her latest post: “Yes, This Is Important.”  She writes, “We cannot transition to a new era of renewable energy without changing people’s behavior.”  I believe her thought is that not only is this more or less a continuum, but it must work in that very order:  first you change at home, then you change within your communities, and then you can create global change.

So what do we do, how do we provoke, inspire, and support people at each stage – without overwhelming them? Can we have blogs and media that address multiple levels, or does each person need a community of people who are on the same point in the continuum?

I’m on number 6 by the way.  I feel like I won’t master that for quite a while, but I’m working on it!

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11 comments to Is It Too Overwhelming To Hear That You Need To Do More?

  • I think it is very overwhelming to most people. Heck, its overwhelming to me. When I look back at the changes made over the last 2-3 years, it seems amazing that I accomplished them all. The problem is that I really had no idea that I even needed to do these things until just a few years ago. The fact that this has been a movement for so long and I didn’t even realize it seems really sad. How many others are there that have no idea? Until people can see it, they won’t do anything. We have to make them see it.

  • Trish The promised land

    The problem I found is people just don’t care. They do not pay attention to problems of our world. My words often fall onto deaf ears. If it’s cheap and it works for them, then why not buy it. If it’s the next gadget, they buy it. They see living a green or a sustainable lifestyle a luxury or expensive, and unrealistic. When truly it’s getting back to the basics, away from the consumer life.

  • We need both support groups for people that are in the same place and places (media, blogs….) that are a mixture of levels so that we learn from each other. And that doesn’t make it less overwhelming. :)

    The continuum is interesting and I think, a good way to describe where people are at. Most of the people I know are at 2, a few at 5 and 6. I wonder where overwhelmed starts? Is it too much information, too fast? Maybe the answer is breaking things down into manageable pieces? Maybe just persistence and providing a variety of solutions and perspectives?

  • I’m somewhere between 1 and 3, definitely. I think another problem is that for a lot of people it isn’t a priority. Right now I have *so* many things on my plate — my last two years of college apparently aren’t going to go by without a fight — that thinking about personal and community change to help the environment is completely overwhelming. I mean, right now I live in a house where people don’t even turn off the lights they’re not using. Am I supposed to be the nag that gets on everyone’s case about the LIGHTS? It seems like if we’re not even there, there’s not much I can do.

    I guess what I’m saying is I’m doing the best I can with something that’s a lower priority for me right now. It seems like most of the people in the ‘green’ blog world have a lot more control and persuasive power, and sometimes even just that is overwhelming. I don’t have much purchasing power, I can’t imagine living ‘simply’, and I DEFINITELY won’t be buying those products that ‘green your life’ for you. (Although I suppose that part is a good thing. ;))

    I do enjoy reading your blog still, but I hope you’re not offended if I comment less and less. I hardly have time for blog reading these days – so what does that say about my time for saving the world? (tongue-in-cheek)

  • Hi Melinda,

    I have to say it isn’t too overwhelming to be told you need to do more. It’s way too easy to get stuck in our comfortable space of doing what we are comfortable with. We need people out there that keep putting ideas forward and challenging us to do better.

    I think more my point was .. one person’s reasonable change to another just something they can’t face yet. Saying things like ” And I firmly believe you cannot live a truly sustainable lifestyle without doing more” in the context of community engagement, which is likely to be a challenging hurdle for many, will be quite alienating for many people that just can’t quite make that step atm.

    I think that just like in real life people will require a range of different of interactions. They will need “peer groups” where everyone is basically in the same head space, struggling with the same range of issues, where they feel understood and supported. That said faster growth comes when someone is sure enough of themselves to become involved in the wider multi level community.

    It is at this point that is is useful for people that are further along the path to discuss a wide range of issues, allowing each individual to take up and act on those they can see a personal path to. Sometimes a stop in growth is about feeling the job is done, others about being overwhelmed, sometimes it is about lacking skills or even something as fundamental as having an idea of what this next step could look like.

    In the end most of us will have passed through each of the stages of the continuum you have listed. For some though stages like “Work within your community to create change.” would actually be 5 because in this day and age of the Internet engaging globally is, for some people, actually significantly easier than engaging locally so is often done first.

    That is why we need everyone in the environmental movement to tackle things the way they interact best. The challengers, storytellers, imaginative visionaries as well as those that engage people at the first stages and point them to the low hanging fruit all propel people forward. Different people need different approaches depending on where they are in their process, someone who’s imagination is intially caught by a visionary or or storyteller later may need a challenger etc. Can it all be done in the same space is something I am not too sure about.

    Kind Regards

  • Personally I don’t find it overwhelming to be told I need to do more, but hten I’m a very keen environmentalist and constantly looking for ways i can reduce my carbon footprint, help native species etc.

    I think that the average person who doesn’t care or feels the environment isn’t a priority then it can seem overwhelming to be told they need to do more, but as you quoted me saying (and thanks for the quote!) the simple campaigns can lead to people thinking they don’t need to do much at all. So there needs to be a balance.

    I think we should be showing people that going green doesn’t need to be hard work and it can be fun and it can (perhaps crucially at the moment) save money! So: turn your heating down – it will save you money and by the way its green! Walk instead of drive it can save you money, it can be more fun and less stressful, its healthier and oh by the way its greener too!

    I also think that being a good example and sharing enthusiasms is better than nagging….

  • You might be interested in the LiveSimply Project
    we have over here which moved from personal pledges of change to community ones.
    My own response was to set up the Lúcháir project
    as a way of reflecting on the need for, and the process of change, and also to celebrate the hundreds of people I found who were doing the same thing, only better.
    We are not alone.
    I like your neat structural thinking – it helps me organise and orientate myself when I’m bogged down in the stuff!

  • SusanB

    It’s a good list but there’s a step that you dismiss as “peripheral” in your commentary. That is personal advocacy which I separate from community or global changing. Things like voting, signing petitions, writing letters, letting your concerns be known at the places you shop, talking to your friends, relatives, neighbors, acquaintances. Things that DON”T involve going to meetings, organizing, or other types of heavy lifting that may not fit with a person’s calling, talents, time limitations, personality, or physical limitations.
    And I agree with belinda that unless you are talking about actually traveling globally, for many people taking global action in the form of dispersing information over the internet or supporting global causes with contributions is easier than being active at a community level which usually requires a physical presence and meeting people face to face. And writing to corporations about your concerns with their conduct or products is in this day a fairly global level activity.

  • Nicole

    It’s interesting how many who resist living more sustainably seem to employ a rather paradoxical defense strategy….they criticize ethical purchasing strategies (organic, fair trade, locally sourced products) as “too expensive,” while simultaneously refusing to cut back on cheaply made yet overpriced consumer commodities (plasma tv’s, cell phones, gaming systems, the latest fashions….the list could go on for pages, really).

    I get this defense tactic from a LOT of people I know – and I’m not even pushy, I’m usually just explaining where I shop, or why I don’t want to eat factory-farmed animal products anymore. I think we’ve been brainwashed through years of advertising and social pressure to expect food to be cheap and convenient, thus freeing up money for the other stuff we’re told we “need.”

  • What is hard to me is hearing “You need to do more” every minute of every day. It usually comes from inside my own head. Sometimes I just get fed up. Dammit, why can’t I just have a cheeseburger instead of hunting down a place to get something eco-friendly?

    Usually, thinking like this is a sign I need a rest. I don’t do anything new for several weeks. I might even bend a little on the “rules” about waht’s ok to do. I might (*gasp*) make a single-purpose trip and to to a movie, and NOT worry about doing six errands on the way home to make it “worth the trip.”

    Once I’ve rested, I find I’m ready to jump back into the fray and do more again.

    Also, I’d reorder your stages: 1, 2, 3, 6, 4, and 5. Global change might even be optional. The more earth-conscious I get, the more I find my efforts focused at local community. I don’t fee like I have any sway at all in global politics, but I can make huge changes in my community – and those kinds of changes grow.


  • Thank you all so much for your thoughtful responses. These gave me lots of fodder for thought. SusanB, I will have to recalibrate my thoughts a bit, because you’re totally right.

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