Some fear that if they look too closely at their choices and discover that those choices have harmful effects on other people, animals, and the environment, they will experience a number of negative emotions. They may worry they’ll feel overwhelmed, despondent, hopeless, conflicted, disempowered, and even bad about themselves if they continue to make choices they know cause suffering or harm. This is why people will sometimes tell me that they don’t want to know about the effects of a certain food or clothing brand or charity (see last blog post). Ignorance is bliss after all.
But ignorance only appears to be bliss. If the world becomes increasingly dangerous, polluted, hot, crowded, conflictual, unequal, susceptible to natural disasters, deforested, desertified, and dramatically loses biodiversity, the ignorant suffer just as much as the informed (and maybe more), as do their unprepared children and grandchildren.
But even though ignorance does not ultimately result in bliss, it can seem “safer” if we think we’ll avoid those potentially negative emotions mentioned above. But is this premise actually true? Is it true that those who expose themselves to knowledge and deeply inquire about the effects of their choices (including food, products, clothing, work, changemaking efforts, and participation in democracy) are less happy and more burdened than those who don’t?
I explore this question in my book Most Good, Least Harm, and from my profiles of people who consistently pursue knowledge to align their choices more deeply with their values, I find that the reverse is true. While these people may say that they occasionally feel overwhelmed, they also report that they feel more empowered and much happier to be living with integrity and creating a better future for themselves and others. In Daniel Goleman’s new book, Ecological Intelligence, he discovers the same thing. He quotes Raina Kelley, a journalist who became a freegan (someone who finds and consumes free and otherwise discarded foods and clothes and products to sustain themselves) as saying, “I really thought that being mindful of my impact on the Earth would drive me crazy but, in the end, it was the most valuable thing I did over the whole thirty days. The more you know about where your food, clothing, entertainment, and shelter comes from, the easier it is to make buying decisions in line with your conscience.” (p. 97)
Goleman’s book is a call for eco-transparency, because when we know, we all become empowered -- not just the consumer, but the producer as well. A new website, www.earthster.com, is helping businesses choose suppliers that make more ecologically friendly and socially just choices. Since most of the things we produce have a huge supply chain attached to them, this is a critical component in creating more sustainable systems and products. Individuals who wish to know more and choose more consciously, can visit sites such as www.goodguide.com and www.responsibleshopper.org.
Knowledge allows us to align our choices more deeply with our values, and doing this feels both good and liberating. When we are true to values we are less susceptible to others’ directives, whether from society, peers, neighbors, advertisers, etc., and more wholly and fully ourselves.
~ Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, The Power and Promise of Humane Education and Above All, Be Kind
Image courtesy of Joe_Thorn via Creative Commons.
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