Recently I received an email from Nicole with a very interesting question:
How do you come to terms with the fact that so many people in the world don’t seem to want to become educated about how their actions affect their world? For example, I am learning a lot about our food system lately and I really want my friends to become educated about it, too. I feel like if they just KNEW where their food was really coming from, they would make healthier and more environmentally-sound decisions. But I don’t want to see preachy or holier-than-thou. Another example: I have two friends who just don’t recycle. I can’t wrap my head around it. They CAN recycle in their neighborhoods, they just don’t. Again, I want to call them out on it, but I just don’t know how to do it without seeming judgmental – even though I AM!
This is something I think about a lot actually. I think about it when writing this blog, I think about it when I’m doing work for my clients, I think about it when I walk through the streets on my daily walk, … yes, I think about it a lot!
I wrote a bit about it a while back: How Do You Get People To Change Their Lifestyles? In that post, I took a more academic approach of thinking about the stages of change and how you generate behavioral change. I also touched on it when writing Sustainability Begins At Home, because sometimes change really comes from within and spreads outward in due time. Plus I’ve written about the importance of us all doing this with our friends in We Can’t Do This Alone.
But on a very practical level, how do we get our friends to care and to join us?
Nine Ways To Get Your Friends To Care
Here are a few ways that have worked for me.
1. Think About Your Friend and What They Want. What is a good entry point for them? Would the entry point be finding a healthy home for their kids? Or maybe food, knitting, reading (book group?), shopping (antiquing or thrift store shopping or a clothing swap?), gardening? Find an entry point that will draw them in.
2. Meet Them Where They Are. You are likely at point c or even z, while your friend might be at point a. So help them simply get to b first. Make it easy, cheaper, tastier, more fun.
3. Never Use the Word “Should” or “Can’t”- your friend needs to WANT to change their lifestyle, otherwise it won’t work and won’t stick. In the same way that you wouldn’t change if you felt you were being judged, neither will your friends. Despite how much our friends can be frustrating, being judgmental or condescending just doesn’t work to changes anyone’s mind.
4. Remember Your Own Mindset When You Began Thinking About Change. What did you experience? Like me, you probably weren’t told something, but rather you experienced a moment when something happened, something clicked. Somehow it hit HOME for you, and applied to you on a personal level in a way that it never had before. So what were the steps that led you there? How can you recreate that whole experience for your friend?
5. Just Be Friends and Appeal to Your Friendship - ask your friend to accompany you to the farmers market or help you pick out a dress at the thrift store or make an organic cake for your little one. Something similar to what you would normally do, with just a little tweak to let them slowly into your new world. You might even ask them to help you, because this is something you’re really interested in.
6. Be Patient. It takes time and we are all different with different learning curves and needs and wants. We all take two steps forward and one step back as well, so know that just as you are not perfect, you friend is not perfect either. The best thing you can do, though, is stumble through this ebb and flow together. So let them in when they are ready.
7. Make It Fun. Particularly while the world is in Recession and Recovery, nobody wants to hear that the world is dying, or they are going to die, or anything of the sort. Right now, whether we like it or not, the world needs some fun. So make going green fun! Try new things together, with your kids, and in a positive and forward-looking way. Look to the future and see how your lives will change, how your changes will make an impact. Strive toward that point, and continuously redefine normal in a positive way.
8. Show Them How Excited You Are. Good friends will be excited about things that make you happy, healthy, and excited about life. Sometimes all you can do is make your own changes, and let others look on until they find something they find useful or interesting or exciting, and begin to pick it up. This is a tactic that has worked very well within my own family, for instance, where my mother and sister began learning from what I was doing, and started trying it themselves. It happened very organically, and now they make changes on their own and at their own pace.
9. Keep On Truckin. Some people are in such a different place in their life, their work, and their very being that there is nothing you can say or do that will change their minds. That’s ok. They may come around sometime, or they may never come around. One of the things that is so important to me is to focus on helping those who are already beginning to convert their lifestyles. There is a lot of merit in that, and a lot of merit in just doing what you do and doing it well. We all need to learn to be ok with being the first, being the loudest, and being the furthest. And you’ll be surprised at who just might catch up with you when you least expect it!
You know your friend better than most people do, so pick a tactic that makes the most sense given your unique relationship. Don’t give up on your friends. Friendships lift us up when we are down, friendships move us, shake us, and support us, and we need them. If you are not finding support for your lifestyle within your current friends, you might consider finding like-minded people who can support you. Check out Finding Or Forming A Local Group for ways to do that.
What Has Worked For You?
Please share your success stories!
(A version of this article is cross-posted at the Co-op)