15 Feb Criticism, inner conflict and the struggle to live ethically
Do you ever feel like you can’t do anything right?
Ethical living can be a minefield of difficult decisions and public opinions.
Everyone’s lifestyle and needs are different and we all approach ethical living in a unique way depending on our personal circumstances and preferences.
Making “the right choice” can feel like a huge burden and it’s rarely clear cut. Being ethical or sustainable in one area often leads to compromise in another. It’s time consuming, often more expensive and less convenient. Sadly you don’t always feel good about yourself after all that either because you’re left wondering if you actually did make the most ethical choice after all. Unfortunately the ethical road is also often laden with guilt and self doubt.
As Sophie Benson explained in a brilliant article last week – “Every decision, it seems, comes with a set of trade-offs which must be balanced and justified.” The whole process is exhausting.
Personally, I used to feel so overwhelmed by the thought of making ethical purchases that I just never got round to doing it. Without researching every single angle and option how could I know for sure I’d made the best choice? What if I inadvertently got it wrong and made something worse?
Then I realised that all this agonising was getting me nowhere and I was actually still making unethical purchases anyway, because the fear and overthinking had me frozen in my bad habits.
So I started making small swaps and ethical changes here and there. They quickly began adding up and although there is still a long way to go, I’m definitely living a more ethical and sustainable life now I’ve tried to cut through the overwhelm and put the guilt to one side.
But then another unpleasant side effect showed up.
By sharing my journey online I hoped to connect with and learn from others – as well as discover new brands and ethical products. I’m honoured to hear that along the way I’ve inspired a few other people with their own ethical journey too.
But like anyone sharing their experiences on the internet, I’ve had some negative experiences as a result.
Ethical living isn’t just about buying plastic free tea or remembering your reusable cup (although those steps are important) – it’s about aligning your life with your values.
What you write on your blog, photograph for your Instagram feed or put together for your social media is an expression of your creative energy. It’s deeply personal, especially when it’s an expression of your values too.
However when you put it out into the world you are opening it up to public opinion and unfortunately, with a screen in the way, it’s all too easy for people to forget there’s a person on the other end.
I’m all for constructive criticism and helpful feedback – and I went to art school so I can take it! But the internet can be a mean place, and when you’re trying your best to be better and have a positive impact, these comments can derail you.
When your personal values and often difficult choices you’ve made are questioned, or you receive negative, critical or even mean feedback as a result, it can be hurtful, demotivating and can even discourage you from engaging with ethical living at all.
As ethical consumers we are trying to play our part in global issues like climate change, deforestation and poverty, and to tackle those we need a joined up approach and open conversation. But, as we know, ethical living isn’t simple – you’re likely to come across conflicts between values often and compromises must be made.
We’re living and working in a sector where transparency is essential and challenging brands is commonplace. When dealing with such complex issues, it’s hard to identify and right or wrong approach – and it’s only through healthy debate and open conversation that we can find a way forward with as much positive impact and minimal negative side effects as possible.
It’s fine to question, discuss and stimulate this conversation if it leads to progress, but we have to approach this with caution and handle it mindfully. As Francesca Willow of Ethical Unicorn points out, the movement isn’t accessible to everybody.
Sustainable Sabs wrote a response to the Package Free Shop/Lauren Singer situation this week. For those of you who missed it, the zero waste shop wrote an Instagram post about how anyone can go zero waste. This was politely questioned by some followers (again back to the issue of the movement not being entirely inclusive) and the comments were deleted and the people were blocked. The whole post has now been removed. However, for me, Sustainable Sabs sums up the whole issue perfectly when she says:
“Everyone in this movement is doing their best with what they are given, and no one should ever feel like they’re not trying hard enough…It’s also important to remember that social media can be deceptive; people don’t always show their slip ups, but after last week’s events I hope we can continue to talk about it and be transparent with one another.”
Ethical consumerism is an excellent start, but alone it is not enough and we can’t do this by ourselves. Even for those of us who can fully participate in the movement, we’re still facing enormous obstacles trying to make a conscious lifestyle fit with the restraints of a capitalist society. While we make ethical decisions as individuals, often corporations and even governments don’t. We need to work together to challenge corporate power and unethical systems – not judge, attack and bring down each other for approaching the same issues differently.
This should extend to helping each other out and calling each other out – but in a way that respects the personal journey and creative energy that goes into living an ethical lifestyle and documenting it online.
Respect everyone’s journey, even your own. People within the community are not the enemy. We all share the same goals – we’re just trying to get there in different ways. You may be ahead of others – if so, support them. You may be behind others – in that case, seek their support.
Any time we spend on comparison, jealousy or bringing each other down is wasted energy that we could have used campaigning for real change. Don’t be afraid to use your unique voice to celebrate your journey. Speaking out will help you connect with supporters and find your tribe.