Blog Musings

Why the Conscious Community Should Avoid Moral Superiority

Why the Conscious Community Should Avoid Moral Superiority
Written by Jennifer Nini

The sustainably-minded community is an incredible one to be a part of. For the most part, people I encounter are open-minded, health-conscious, eco-passionate and possess a strong sense of ethics. There is a depth to our conversations in this community that I find lacking in others. 

In addition, I feel safe, understood and supported by its members. These people ‘get’ me and I in turn ‘get’ them. Our ages, backgrounds and professions may be different but we have one thing in common:

We are all striving to minimise our personal environmental impact and help raise the level of human consciousness.

Some of us – like myself – are going a step further and are using digital platforms and other tools at our disposal to educate the public to increase the rate of ‘eco’ adoption in our communities. Education as we know plays a crucial role in changing behaviour and is vital if we want to move society as a whole away from our destructive and wasteful consumer habits towards sustainable living and where all humans have a chance to flourish.

conscious community conscious bloggers

Now over the last couple of years I’ve noticed that the ‘eco’ community has grown – there are more individuals, as well as blogs, publications and websites devoted to the ‘green’ subject – which has been wonderfully exciting to watch. It is evidence that more people are ‘waking up’ to the world’s environmental and social problems and are seeking solutions to help reduce negative impact and make their lives, workplaces and communities more sustainable.

But with this growth, I have also noticed something else: the community has become rather ‘cliquey’. In and of itself is not a bad thing. Humans are not islands and we need each other’s support, particularly when we are still outnumbered by the mainstream population who are not, shall we say, mindful.

Nevertheless, the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality is at odds with me. Taking the ethical high road as an individual is one thing, but acting morally superior and coming across as a know-it-all is not the way to ingratiate yourself with ‘non-conscious’ people, especially if you want to influence them.

What happened between Ben and another vegan is a perfect illustration of what we shouldn’t do as conscious people.

If you prefer to listen to this in audio format, just click ‘play’:

Audio Broadcast – Why the Conscious Community Should Avoid Moral Superiority – Part I

Audio Broadcast – Why the Conscious Community Should Avoid Moral Superiority – Part II

What happened on YouTube.

If you open up our latest YouTube video “Going Vegan. His Thoughts on my Veganism” (in which my fiance Ben explains how he feels about my going vegan) you will see a comment below it from a rather passionate vegan who openly challenges Ben on his beliefs.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out the intention behind the comment was not to teach and educate, but rather to shame and ridicule. Of course the comment rubbed Ben up the wrong way. My normally laid-back, jovial man turned into someone almost unrecognisable, responding in a way that can be described as defensive at best, combative at worst.

Unsurprisingly, the outcome of this exchange was not one of mutual understanding, but one of anger and frustration. It was not a win-win but a lose-lose situation. I could hear Ben muttering under his breath about the pomposity of some vegans and I’m almost certain that the commenter went away mentally condemning Ben’s ignorance around animal cruelty.

As for me? I felt stuck.

I understood where the commenter was coming from, but I could also see where Ben was coming from. So I chose the most diplomatic option I could find in this situation: I kept my mouth shut.

Related Post: Why Vegan Activism Sometimes Fails & How to Advocate Veganism More Effectively

Communication is key to growing the ‘conscious’ movement.

This type of heated exchange is commonplace amongst people who have different beliefs, and the relative anonymity of the internet means people feel comfortable to vocalise their opinions, no matter how misinformed.

But it’s not just in the online world that heated exchanges can occur. From within the family home to workplaces, friendship circles to protest marches, cities and countries, people fight over their beliefs. And one sure way to get into a verbal war, physical altercation, and even blocked and reported on social media – is to attack someone’s set of beliefs.

butting heads - eco people need to avoid moral superiority

As a person raised in a politically active household, I am not one to shy away from a good discussion or healthy debate. Being open-minded is essential to evolving as a human being, and listening to opinions that differ from our own is a mark of maturity. So I have no real issues making friends with people whose beliefs and opinions are in stark contrast to my own.

When I reflect on my circle of close friends particularly, I am not ashamed to admit that many of them are far from environmentalists and I wouldn’t even describe them as conscious consumers (don’t worry, I’m working on it!). Some even sit in one or more of the following categories:

  • shopaholic,
  • maximalist consumerist,
  • non-carbon offsetting jet-setter,
  • capitalist,
  • fast-fashion disciple,
  • trash magazine junkie
  • I-don’t-care-how-my-food-was-grown-and-where-my-meat-came-from omnivores

As I count many eco ‘outsiders’ as my best friends and – before my own awakening, would easily have slotted into some of these categories myself – it is natural that I would want an inclusive community, not a community that acts exclusive. 

In fact, even when I started the blog, building inclusivity was a high priority:

Ramblings of an Eco Warrior Princess - WordPress Blog 2010

A snapshot of my original WordPress blog “Ramblings of an Eco Warrior Princess”

I hope this blog will help you learn and grow and inspire you to start critically thinking and motivates you to take action to make this world a better place.

If it does, then I have achieved what I set out to achieve. Enjoy!

So my aim when I started my blog was to educate, inform, inspire and influence. And I personally think that if we as conscious people want our ideas to spread, not only must we lead by example, but we also need to venture out of the ‘conscious clique’ and strike up meaningful, open conversation with people outside of our ‘safe’ environment in a way that respects them and their beliefs but engages them in a logical, rational way.

Related Post: Donald Trump is President: How a Divided America Can Begin To Heal

Behaving morally superior will get us nowhere (neither does preaching to the converted). Let’s start by bringing consciousness into our communications approach.

At the very least, conscious or not, let’s remember to treat people the way we ourselves would like to be treated.

Have you ever been in the firing line of a person acting morally superior? Or have you ever been accused of moral superiority? Feel free to share your story in the comments below.

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About the author

Jennifer Nini

Jennifer Nini is a writer, activist and the founding editor of Eco Warrior Princess. In 2010, after studying Fashion Business, she began this blog to explore her interests in fashion, politics, social justice and sustainability. Jennifer is also the founder of The Social Copywriter, a digital agency harnessing the power of copywriting and content marketing to help mindful businesses reach more people. When she's not perfecting a sentence or coaching business clients, you will find her at her certified organic farm reconnecting with nature.

6 Comments

  • Thanks for sharing this very important perspective on your blog. I tend to call this type of behavior what it is: fundamentalism. And really, it’s no different from the religious fundamentalism people in eco movements are trying to avoid. It’s easy to fall into a sort of “short cut” interaction with people, relying on buzzwords and tropes instead of using critical thinking.

    Most of my friends are conscientious in a broad sense, but, like you, few are really in this niche. We expand each other’s minds and causes because we can communicate with grace and challenge each other.

    I wrote a post along similar lines a few months ago. I would love your thoughts on it, as well. http://www.stylewise-blog.com/2016/11/fundamentalism-in-conscious-consumer-community.html

    • Thanks so much Leah! I will definitely check out your post. We were actually having a conversation about fundamentalism in our household this morning, religious fundamentalism (‘bible bashers’) and vegan fundamentalism specifically so will be great to read your piece 🙂

  • It’s a really good point you’re bringing out there. I just had a situation happen this week where I was having lunch with a few colleagues at work and we got into the milk subject. I was trying to explain why I don’t drink milk and why we all shouldn’t. Then the discuss derived to sugar, etc. Eventually this one girl got very on the defensive and asked me to stop that all I was saying was useless wasn’t going to help change her habits. I was surprised by her reaction and wasn’t sure if I was being too pushy or she was just closed minded. I am known for being the healthy and conscious person amongst my friends and do feel that I get on people’s nerves sometimes. Anyways I guess I’ll be more careful next time and will choose more wisely my words or whom I’ll be talking too about these matters.

    • Hi Sabine, thanks so much for sharing your story! I am certain many of our readers can relate!

      It is difficult to find that balance sometimes especially when we are so passionate about our beliefs around health/wellness/sustainability/animal cruelty etc. What I do to help keep me in check, is to remember that I have been in their position before, that I too have been ‘unconscious’ and consumed things I should not have. And I also remember what it has felt like when religious people have ‘bible bashed’ me to convert me into their way of religious thinking. These religious situations put me off even more!!

      So when I remember how these sorts of interactions makes me feel (annoyed, belittled, morally questioned) I in turn remember not to ‘vegan bash’ or ‘eco bash’ anyone. I don’t want to make people feel that same way I feel when a religious person questions me about my beliefs or lack there of or whatever.

      And you know what? At least you recognise now to be mindful about this! Great lesson to have learned 🙂

  • Ben’s response was gold!

    I’ve noticed the superiority creep in during more than a few conversations or online chats I’ve had with people who’s values differ from my own. It frustrating to think that even though I run a business committed to creating positive change in the world, I’m still not “good enough” in the small minds of some people. How can the general population be expected to start making more sustainable lifestyle choices when our community is judging one another?

    • That ordeal was simultaneously amusing and cringe-worthy!! And Ben kept wanting me to check over what he wrote and I kept saying, “I want you to express yourself. I don’t want to censor you”. I didn’t even edit his comments so hence all the spelling errors LOL!

      And you are spot on! We all fall into a ‘spectrum’. For the most part, people have to use the sustainability information provided, make their own informed decision and apply it to their own unique, individual circumstances.

      I am definitely on one end but I think it’s why people gravitate to the blog actually – my full on commitment to challenging existing modern lifestyle ‘norms’ without being ‘hippie’ about it. But when we moved to being a multi-contributor site, I had a feeling that some of our readers – who I would describe as super dedicated about reducing negative impact – might have an issue with us publishing articles that seemed, shall we say, ‘basic’? And I was right.

      We lost some readers, for the most part, the majority stuck around. I think if we continue to challenge people by saying that inclusivity works better than exclusivity we will stand a much better chance of influencing not only the people in our circles, but more importantly, the masses. And as I’ve said often, this blog has to meet people where THEY are at, not where I am at 🙂

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