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How to be a good person without annoying everyone

You heard the joke: How do you know someone’s a vegan? Don’t worry; They will tell you. Punch line to punch line though, they may not be very deliberate.

Vegetarians and vegans know their reputation as sacred kilojays — so in a recent study, half of participants who did not eat meat refused to promote vegan options in the company of non-vegetarian eaters. Their caution is well-founded: what people call psychologists “moral rebels” —the departure from personal conviction — can, in fact, provoke embarrassment and defensiveness in peer-minded peers. Their behavior is particularly aggravating for those who are able to make similar choices but have not yet. (How do you really feel about your cousin’s high carbon economy? Be honest.)

While those who rebel on behalf of the planet have a good reason to pipe down, we can all be better off if they don’t. As social psychologists Claire Brouwer and John-Willem Bolderdijk argue in a new paper, “Moral threat is precisely the ingredient needed to achieve social change because it provokes moral dissonance.” In other words, moral rebels can annoy the rest of us to join them. However, to be successful, they must choose their language carefully.

One of the reasons that moral rebels inspire defensive reactions in many of us, says Brouwer and Bolderdijk, is that their example highlights the gap between our own values ​​and behavior. Maybe we’re worried about climate change, but we went ahead and bought that cheap plane ticket to Europe; Perhaps we are convinced of the importance of civic participation but we do not bother attending a city-council meeting. “Moral rebels remind you of your inconsistencies, which can be very painful, because they can lead to the conclusion that you are not a good and moral person,” Brouwer, Ph.D. The candidate at Pompey Fabra University in Barcelona told me.

So while it is common to scold or lecture moral rebels, the sound of what we hear can be internal – our own minds highlight our own shortcomings. And since those who care more about the problem at hand are more self-critical, they can also be loud mockers. But these same strong feelings, Brouwer and Bolderdijk suggest, can serve as a “motivational fuel” for change. “People react negatively, it doesn’t mean you don’t have an impact. It means you’re nervous,” Bolderdick, an associate professor at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, told me.

Researchers have found that when people consider themselves capable of improvement, they confront and solve their moral dilemmas. Moral rebels can boost this confidence, Brewer said, by presenting their own behavior as a result of an ongoing process rather than an overnight transformation. Those who devote time to political content, for example, may describe the small but meaningful victories that inspire them. Those who renounce happiness or convenience for moral reasons may accept occasional omissions or temptations. (Vegetarians may try “it’s too good smell-steak I miss too much” instead of “meat makes me gag”.

Brouwer added that moral rebels must also accept the external pressures and realities that shape everyone’s behavior. By recognizing that food preferences are influenced by childhood experiences, or that transportation options are limited by local availability and cost, they may make it clear that their actions are to encourage specific actions, not pass judgment on individuals. After all, even those who set a moral example in one aspect of life may struggle to do so in another.

Why bother about moral rebellion in the first place? Despite the effects of ExxonMobil, by contrast, individual consumers cannot reverse climate change – or any other environmental illness, for that matter – and their options are no substitute for systemic improvements. Yet collective action, consumer and otherwise, has real power, and as Boldergic suggests, mass action begins with solo action.

“Social change is always initiated by individuals, be they consumers, activists or politicians,” he told me. “They all stand alone at first, and they all face struggles and social costs to be the first to move out of the norm. We need these stubborn guys. These people are willing to stick to their guns and keep explaining their principles to change the movement.

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