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How Do You Get Friends To Care?

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)

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13 comments to How Do You Get Friends To Care?

  • I think about this a lot too and have gotten much better at not using the should word or describing the conditions of industrial cattle feed lots after a nice meal with friends. They appreciate the effort. What has worked best is simply feeding friends and family plain old locally grown food without saying anything. They always ask why it tastes good and then with the door open I give a plug for whatever. It’s such a ridiculously slow process but I know I will turn completely the opposite direction if someone tells me what I should or shouldn’t do.

    Thanks for the great list.

  • Wow, what a great post. I’m sending this along to my daughter because she has often expressed this exact same question…and I’ve had few answers. Now I can look like a savvy Mom! Thank you.

  • Excellent post! One thing that has worked for me is wearing really nice second hand clothes and seeing friends’ and colleagues faces when I tell them where I bought my clothes and how much i spent…. Enthusiasm in general is a good thing though, last week two colleagues ended up planning to go for country walks to look for snowdrops because i was so enthusiastic about it!

  • I’m known for two things: arts and crafts, and organizing the heck out of an area!

    Usually I start with something along the lines of “I have an idea…” or “If you’re going to toss that, would you mind if I have it?” Then they get curious about what I plan on using their trash for.

    I’ve learned not to push and let the other person get curious about what I’m doing. Same goes for new things I try (like my recycled purse, walking to work). The last time I changed something, I started using a shampoo bar. Someone got curious about it and asked what I did to my hair. She noticed that it was looking healthier and fluffier (and everyone knows I’m no fuss when it comes to hair and makeup… I’m totally wash and go). Her curiousity opened the door to me bringing in something I read or tried and sharing with her. Each week, I have something “new” to show her so now she’s wondering what interesting thing I’ll share next week.

  • Thank you so much for answering my question, Melinda! Being fairly new to your wonderful blog, I hadn’t seen those past posts but I plan to go read them right now!

    I’m relieved to read that others think about this issue, too. In writing my own blog, that’s a good way for me to share the things I’m doing in my own life – and I think that so far, that’s the main way I’ve been able to reach my friends about living a healthier lifestyle. (Don’t be fooled by the lack of comments on the actual site; I put links to the posts on my Facebook page and that’s mainly where they comment.) ;) They read about the wonderful meals I cook at home – and I’ve heard from a few that they were recently inspired to try cooking “real” food, too! It really seems to be all about leading by example, and so that’s what I’m going to continue to try my best to do!

    And Katrina, I’ll try to abstain from the comments about the industrial cattle feed lots after we’ve eaten a nice meal together! Ha! LOL…(So hard not to share my newly found knowledge!!!)

    It’s so nice to be part of a community of like-minded others who gather here. Thanks again, Melinda, for putting together such a great site!

  • Rob

    Quite honestly, I don’t care if my friends care about the same things I do or not. I usually pick friends who are like minded so it hasn’t been a problem yet!

  • For me, many of my friends & family have learned just by watching the example, learning how important something was to me, and/or due to just learning more about the issue themselves. I seriously started living a more eco-simple lifestyle, but it took my brother-in-law reading a book about chemical exposures before they really jumped on board. And most the time I just applaud my friends for the little changes they do make that are more tailored to their lifestyles. I’m always about education though so I will through random sites or things that I find on Facebook or will talk about a good deal I got (such as Klean Kanteen’s new insulated kanteens)…and that has also hooked other people….

  • Ayse Gokce Bor

    Thanks for the great post! :)
    I used to get frustrated and upset when my friends told me that they were gonna be sustainable, eat good, live cruelty free and then they didn’t..
    Nowadays I stopped being pushy and trying to be enthusiastic insted :) It’s a difficult proccess, cause I want them to “transform”;) but guess it doesn’t work that way!
    They just need to find their own way…
    or so i hope! ;)
    with love and light
    Ayse

  • ALM

    You’re right: your own enthusiasm and the example you set can rub off on your friends/family. I’ve found a lot of times that people acutally do CARE, they just need to see how to go about acting on their feelings.

  • [...] How Do You Get Friends To Care? Recently I received an email from Nicole with a very interesting question: [...]

  • Getting the “ego out of eco” always helps when trying to lure folks to the green side.

  • I think the thing for me is acknowledging that some changes are hard. And come changes that are easy for me (like recycling) are hard for others, for reasons I might not understand. That’s ok, I don’t need to.

    I know I could be doing lots more – but I’m trying a gradual ramping up. Bit by bit, making a difference. That’s a way that’s more sustainable for me than eschewing everything at once and then deciding it’s too hard and running back to my petroleum products.

    I think it’s about finding – and showing – little ways to do a little better. Low barrier to entry. I think it’s better to encourage one friend to recycle and keep recycling for their lifetime, than it is to get someone to ride to work for a couple of weeks before they get tired and jump back in the jeep.

  • I was working on somethign using the cycle of change just after I read this http://localenterprise.wordpress.com/2008/06/25/cycle-of-change-prochaska-and-diclemente-and-enterprise/

    Maybe your friends are stuck in the pre-contemplation stage? Change is hard, after all!

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