Way back when I was first contemplating the possibility of the No Impact Man project, my main concern was with finding ways to bring attention to our environmental crises. I wanted everyone to change.
As I thought of different ways to write about the crises, I began to worry that I would only be preaching to the choir. The liberals read the liberal polemics; the conservatives read the conservative ones; everybody congratulates themselves for sharing ideas with the book author.
In other words, I didn't imagine I could find a finger-wagging approach that would change anyone's mind. That's when I started realizing how many planetary resources me and my little family were unconsciously using up. I thought, if I want to help, maybe I could start with myself.
Then, at a certain stage, people questioned my sincerity, because I was writing a book and a blog and someone was making a documentary. I understand the gripes. It costs resources to make all these things.
But the point is that I wanted to make a point of leading by example. Maybe if I was willing to ostentatiously question my lifestyle choices, others would, in turn, question theirs. More importantly, perhaps my work would show in stark relief the cultural systems that make living sustainably so difficult for the individual.
The question becomes whether the resulting change of minds and actions and engagement in the issue is worth the use of resources? I guess the answer is not really for me to say.
But what I will say is that I think the more each of us is willing to put ourselves on the line and be open about the concerns we have, the farther the ripples travel.
By way of evidence, I'm including an email below, which is typical of many I have received. I don't include it because I want to blow my own horn. I include it because I wonder if this approach suggests a way forward for changing more minds and engaging more people.
What are you thoughts about ostentatious individual action and the ripple effect as an activist technique? What are its limitations? What are its strengths?
Here is the email:
I got to sit in the front row at the Library for the Sundance premier of your movie and it did have an impact on me. It has only been a week since I saw your movie, but in that time:
-I haven’t purchased anything in a package (although I do see a few challenges ahead);
-Started carrying around a handkerchief;
-Got a mini-whiteboard instead of using so many Post-It Notes;
-I’ve told 20 people about your movie (and never mentioned the toilet paper, because it can distract people from the real message…);
-Talked on the local radio station about your movie (last Saturday and yesterday);
-Wore your button yesterday to a presentation I gave to the Park City Council and mentioned your movie in the presentation (last night the Park City Council adopted an updated Environmental Strategic Plan); and
-Have, as you suggested, started living more consciously.
And while you didn’t mention it explicitly in the movie, in the Q&A you did talk about how trying out these alternative behaviors provided you the opportunity to live more consciously. It is quite a profound feeling -- the power of making different choices.
Keep up the good work.
Colin Beavan (that's me!) is now leading a conversation about finding a happy, helpful life at Colinbeavan.com. If you want to know how people are breaking out and and finding authentic, meaningful lives that help our world, check it out the blog here and sign up to join the conversation here.