Raising Awareness vs. Preaching

To some, anarchy means chaos and violence. But there is a philosophy of non-violent anarchy, or libertarian socialism, to which many subscribe. I want to spend at least a couple of posts on that philosophy. But, first, I simply want to take a quote from an anarchist and explore a question that has weighed on my mind for many years. I recently watched a documentary titled, Anarchism in America. In the film, Murray Bookchin is quoted:

“I don’t believe that one can practice anarchism in this society. I believe it would be utterly illusory to contend that a food co-op can replace…Grand Union, or that a so-called people’s bank, to use a concept of Proudhon who is supposed to have been an anarchist, could replace Chase-Manhattan. Nor do I think that one can go around living a holier than thou ethical life, you know, that essentially amounts to an ongoing guilt trip against other people. I find that it is basically impossible to live a thoroughly anarchist life within a capitalist society. But I do believe this: that one can try to maintain a high ethical standard, and that is one of the beautiful things about anarchism, that it brings ethics into socialism instead of mere science into socialism such as Marx does; that one can live an ethical life; one can concern oneself personally with what is humane, and what I would prefer to call libertarian behaviour; one can protest; and one can try to work with projects in which people learn how to take control of their lives even if in fact they can’t do so until there are fundamental social changes. Those are the commitments I believe that anarchism seriously poses to the individual, and it raises a very high standard, it is demanding in that respect. It demands that you search into what is a humanistic sensibility and what is a humanistic ethic.”

I want to focus on the portion I highlighted. Surely there is a difference between raising awareness and preaching, but how easy is it to tell the difference? Feelings of guilt can lead to defensiveness. If someone feels guilty as a result of you raising their awareness, that person may determine that you were being “preachy.” I’ve struggled with my desire to raise awareness and my desire to not come across as holier than thou. It doesn’t seem like “leading by example” is very productive if nobody is actually aware of what you’re doing or isn’t reading what you’re reading. Few people are aware of how I live my life, because I simply don’t socialize much. So, in the past, I would email articles to the few friends I have, as well as family members. Partly due to a lack of response nearly every single time I did so, I more or less concluded that I was just being a nuisance. Now, I have a blog that anyone can choose to visit or ignore.

I’m going to use this opportunity to raise awareness about an issue and also get people to ponder what separates raising awareness from preaching. I no longer eat chocolate that isn’t fair trade, or at least organic (be it in ice cream or cookies or anything else). Why? It all started with this little book titled, The Better World Shopping Guide. It’s a book that gives letter grades to companies based on human rights, the environment, animal protection, community involvement and social justice. Near the front of the book there is a page with a list of “the top 10 things to change.” #7 on the list is chocolate, which prompted me to learn more about that sweet treat. What I learned is that a huge percentage of cocoa is harvested by child slaves, particularly in the Ivory Coast. In fact, virtually all chocolate that isn’t fair trade or organic is the product of child slave labor, as documented in the film The Dark Side of Chocolate. So, I eat less chocolate than I used to, and all of the chocolate I do eat is fair trade or organic. Now, I see no reason why one should feel guilty about eating chocolate if one is unaware of this issue (I feel less sympathy for those who continue to throw recyclables such as plastic beverage bottles in the garbage when recycling bins are located within a short distance…yes, I have co-workers who do this). But, if you know the dark side, how are you to raise awareness in others?

When a co-worker offers me a bite-size chocolate bar and I refuse politely without saying why (that happened today, as a matter of fact), no awareness has been raised. There may be an assumption that I wasn’t in the mood or that I don’t like chocolate or that I’m a health nut, but the real reason is a mystery to everyone in the break room other than me. Imagine that the person making the offer or someone else in the room were to ask why I refused (this has yet to happen, by the way). Assuming I give a polite but honest explanation with a respectful tone and non-judgemental attitude, I hope most of you reading this blog post would agree that I haven’t crossed the line into preachiness. Now, what if I explain my refusal (in the exact same manner) without having been asked why I refused (for the record, I have not yet done so)? What say you then? Is the unprompted explanation, even if I make every effort to help people avoid feelings of guilt or shame, unwarranted?

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2 Responses to Raising Awareness vs. Preaching

  1. Kendra says:

    You know how I feel about that, so it seems a bit silly to add it here again, but I do believe unprompted explanation is preaching. It does make it harder to share reasons when no one asks (as no one is likely to do for something that happens often in life, such as refusing sweets), but I don’t feel that’s a good reason to share. On the other hand, I suppose you could subtly leave literature about the chocolate trade in the break room. 🙂

    And you can’t control whether people feel shame or guilt. Some people will, even if they ask for your reasons and you give them as non-judgmentally as possible.

  2. garrett78 says:

    Coming across as a bit preachy is a small price to pay if it means enough people will demand that child enslavement be abolished. But leaving some literature is a good idea, since people can choose to read it or ignore it. A good way to raise awareness without preaching.

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