Dealing with your Less-Than-Green Relatives at the Holidays

Personal Sustainability is making sustainability real in your life, family & organization— taking care of body and mind, emotions, relationships, careers, lifestyle and the bottom line — with a goal of optimal health for people and the planet.

At Sustainable Self, we make a sustainability a cornerstone of our work. Think about how you or someone you care about would benefit from effective, sustainability-focused counseling, coaching or consulting.  See the article below on maintaining your eco-values when dealing with your “less than green” relatives at the holidays and see our website for more end-of-a-great-year news at Sustainable Self.

Best wishesThomas Joseph Doherty, Psy.D.


Dealing with your Less-Than-Green Relatives at the Holidays

I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.

~ Lyric from the 1943 Gannon & Kent Christmas song popularized by Bing Crosby

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

This holiday season, you may be dreaming of an earth-friendly reunion with your relatives.  But, chances are your loved ones may not share your eco-beliefs and some may be downright eco-contrarians. After all, although a majority of Americans believe that issues like climate change exist, a minority sees it as a serious threat in their lifetimes and a small number remain naysayers. So how do you get along when visiting or having a visit from relatives and friends who don’t think green is the way to go?

I spoke about this with Shelby Wood at The Oregonian for her December PDX Green story: Holidays with the energy wastrels (aka family) and here are some more thoughts. The bottom line is if you want to move brother John or Aunt Sue in a sustainable direction, there are things you can do that will help your cause and things that will hurt it.

The first thing: Know your audience.

•    The ingredients that lead people to adopt eco-friendly behaviors include: altruistic values, an ecological world view, beliefs that things we love face adverse consequences because of environmental issues, and an additional (and important) belief that one can do something to reduce the threat. These lead to a sense of personal responsibility to act and, in turn, lead to pro-environmental behaviors.

•    Sound familiar? This may seem like a no-brainer to you, but not everyone has an ecological world-view or feels that they or their loved ones are threatened by environmental problems. And even if they do, they may not believe they can make a difference.

•    Also, keep in mind that there are a variety of “pro-environmental” behaviors and these can be public or private, and include activism or working within the system. Finally, be aware that people tend to go through stages when adopting a new behavior. Someone may have made a commitment but is still getting ready for action.

So, what doesn’t work?

•    Criticism may work – but it is just as likely to backfire. People who are high in environmental values respond to criticism by redoubling their efforts. People low in environmental values respond to criticism by doing less or giving up.

•    Guilt tripping usually doesn’t work at all. People respond to guilt tripping with annoyance and put their energy into finding reasons for their behaviors.

•    Avoid all or nothing thinking.  Living a different lifestyle for a short time won’t disqualify all your eco-efforts through the year. As they say, “When in Rome…”

What does work?

•    Being flexible and being gracious, especially in this holiday season when you may be travelling and receiving someone else’s hospitality. On your home turf, be inviting and suggestive.

•    We are more likely to be influenced by people who are secure and confident, who have a sense of humor, and who accept us. So, if you want to be an ambassador for Ecotopia, be diplomatic. If your relatives feel accepted by you, they’ll be more curious and more likely to try some of the new behaviors you are suggesting. Feeling irritable? Imagine how your wisest friend would handle the situation. What about the Dalai Lama or Barack Obama?

•    Check yourself. Are you having mixed feelings about your own ecological footprint, or expenses, or consumption this season? It feels better to project those feelings onto someone else and your less green brethren are easy targets. No one can bring out your adolescent insecurities like parents and siblings. But be an adult and recognize that you make decisions and trade-offs like everyone else.

•    Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Can you take their perspective and recognize the barriers they face, the competing priorities, or a lack of social support for eco-friendly behaviors where they live?

•    Look at the big picture and have the guts to make changes. If you are locked into travel or other commitments that do not gibe with your emerging sustainability values, adopt a long-range plan to live in a more personally congruent way. It can take a year or two to manage such changes.

•    Finally, remember that ecology is about healthy relationships, and never more so than in your personal ecology. The time is precious during a visit with a loved one you see only rarely. If you are lucky you may plant seeds of sustainability that may bear fruit in the coming year. So, if you love someone less green than you, be sure to tell him or her. If you are thankful for someone or something, let them and the world know it. And give yourself a pat on the back for being part of the solution this year![/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Published by Thomas Doherty

Psychologist Thomas Doherty's work on environmental sustainability and health has been featured in publications like the New York Times and in talks worldwide. Thomas consults with individuals and organizations through his business Sustainable Self. He was the founding Director of the Ecopsychology Certificate Program at Lewis & Clark Graduate School and Founding Editor-in-Chief of the peer-reviewed academic journal Ecopsychology. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *