Ethical Evangelism

(Pictured: Pact fair trade organic underwear– aka the best and practically only underwear I own!)

Since starting my conscious living journey, I have filtered my Instagram accounts so that I am only shown ethical brands and sustainable lifestyles— plant based, zero waste, happy vegans who wear the most famous of ethical brands and meditate daily with their yogini children… etc, etc. My social media world is pretty much a curated feed of nearly exactly the kind of world I want to live in. Everyone is either 100% sustainable or doing the best they can to get there.

Now, I’ve seen two things come out of this ethical bubble I’ve created for myself online:

  1. We are a community. We learn from each other, support each other, build each other up. We offer advice and connect each other to like-minded people and brands. We’ve managed to create this counterculture— an alternate world. It’s great because I never have to be tempted by images of clothing that my morals won’t let me buy. I am always pushed to become a better and better version of myself.
  2. But it’s also not so great because it is, well, a bubble. Inside the bubble, everyone understands me and is on the same page as me. We are all working towards the same goals. But having this safe space, this online tribe, also sometimes makes it really hard to go out in the “real world”. I don’t know about you, but I don’t live in a hippie place like the Bay area, and my average day is not spent on a wellness retreat. So being constantly fed this stuff in my conscious community makes it kind of hard to go to school in the mainstream culture.

For example. I went shopping with my mom last weekend, but it proved to be a real display of these conflicting cultures. In the first store, she asked me if I wanted to replace the dress I was wearing. I’m sure in her mind, I’ve had it for awhile and might want a new one. But this was so frustrating to me, since I have been working on replacing my default material consumerism with a more sustainable way of living. Like I wrote in this blog post, I know that Americans buy 60% more clothing and keep them half as long as they did 15 years ago. I know that 40% of clothes in the US are rarely or never worn, and end up in a landfill. And I want to be the kind of person that helps save the planet by committing to buy fewer clothes that I actually love and will take care of, wear, and repair. But how do I communicate that to my mom, who really just wants to be able to buy me a new sundress for our vacation next week?

We had the same conflict again, when I tried on a pair of sandals. To her, they were cute and comfy and would go with everything. But I just could not get over the fact that I have a perfectly good pair of shoes that serve the same function. What’s more, these were made from leather and from a company that is not transparent about their supply chains. I just couldn’t do it.

Her intentions are not evil by any means, it just happens to really breaks my heart to think about buying “single use” items or products I know were not made with the planet or the laborers in mind.

I work hard to purchase strictly on a needs basis rather than shopping for fun, always buying pieces that I love and can wear in multiple situations or multiple seasons. My mom just lives by a different set of rules. She struggles to understand how I could choose one expensive dress over four cheaper dresses. She resents that I only ever want to purchase clothing online, but the stores in my town simply do not reach my environmental and ethical standards. She’s willing to spend hundreds on me in department stores on a girls’ weekend, even if I know and express that there is really only one thing that I want and am in need of in my wardrobe (Currently: the original pineapple pants from Piney+Co. Hello comfort and style for streetwear AND yoga, all from an ethical and body positive company? These pants are good for every season, and they would cover my knee which is a requirement for the countries I’m traveling to this summer. I have a pair of thrifted Elephant Pants and was looking into a second pair, but that company is not sustainable and their advertised philanthropy isn’t enough for me. So thank you and YES PLEASE, Piney+Co!! Anyways, I digress…).

I’ve been persistent over the last few years in my struggle for detachment from material goods (hi my name is Radiance, and I’m a recovering shopaholic), but I’ve been finding real peace in feeling contentment in my present condition– not needing any more than what I have. If I find myself wanting a specific article of clothing, I try to follow some version of the Buyerarchy of Needs: I use what I have, borrow, thrift, evaluate if I really need it, then buy. It sounds a little dramatic, but I really am hesitant to shop with my mom (or anyone that’s not a part of the aforementioned ethical bubble, really) because it grits against the very person I am trying to be.


So how do we live out our ethical values in a world that doesn’t understand them?

I want to be able to tell people why I’m vegetarian without giving off that high and mighty “I’m better than you” vibe. I want to be able to tell people where I got this cardigan they’re complimenting without sounding like I’m rolling in dough. Because believe me, I’m not… I didn’t buy a single non-necessity for four months so that I could afford my ethical swimsuit. But then I also don’t want to sound like I’m judging everyone who is not willing to make the same sacrifices I do.

So how do I participate in casual conversations about shopping, go to a restaurant with friends where I may have to invent my own plant based meal, etc etc, without creating tension or sour feelings? How do I share my ethical lifestyle without coming off as a pretentious preacher?

After all, we want to educate, not turn people away. We want to help people make conscious decisions, not make people to feel guilty about their current choices.

To be honest, I don’t have a sound answer yet. But I can identify one person in my life who I think has been teaching me, who I want to model:

It was movie night and our friends had brought over what appeared to be every boxed sugary treat that Walmart sells. It was a feast of all the foods that the environmentally or health conscious are afraid of. But every time this particular friend was offered a Ding Dong or sugar cookie, she just quietly and respectfully declined. Her “no thanks” was not immediately followed by an “I don’t eat processed sugar”. It was not accompanied with a sneer or look of disgust or a public display of any kind. I can guarantee you that no one who did want to eat the Hostess cakes felt judged or “less than” somehow in that situation.

What she did was leave an open invitation. Her preferences were clear, but an explanation was not forced on an unwilling audience. Instead, if someone were to be curious they could ask her later, and she would be able to have a conversation about her choices with them then.

Maybe this is the solution for dealing with conflicting beliefs outside of our ethical Instagram bubbles. Even if we believe that what we are doing is right, and that everyone else needs to do it, too, it might serve us better to check our ego at the door. What good does it do to take command of a room or conversation? Maybe the most hearts will be moved to change when we humble ourselves enough to speak only when called upon.

Maybe I politely decline my mom’s offers at the mall. But when we go to Target (one of the most ethical department stores), she’ll notice I’m more accepting. I don’t compromise my values, but I also don’t push them to be the leading topic of our day, creating tension in every store we walk into.

For the most part, then, we make our lifestyles well known through our actions, not our words. They will speak louder for us and our movement, anyways.

Happy rainmaking, loves. xoxo, Radiance

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