Do young people sometimes feel that their actions are not in line with their convictions?
It is not always easy to be engaged. The young people we met as part of our research revealed their difficulties.
First difficulty: being afraid of losing facedifficulté :
According to our respondents, it is important that their engagement be credible in the eyes of those around them. They then seek to express their engagement in different spaces in a coherent way: at home with their parents, with their family, grandparents, uncles and aunts, with their friends, of course, and even in rarer situations, when travelling, for example. But, displaying one’s values in all the situations encountered is not always easy because, often, it is possible to meet people who are far from agreeing with you!
A problem therefore arises: displaying one’s values on the one hand and, asserting oneself at all times, on the other hand, implies multiplying the risks of disagreements! We therefore speak of consistency “work” because it takes a lot of time, energy and motivation to achieve it.
Have you ever noticed that this consistency requirement also affects how one expresses oneself on social media?
The development of social networks has led many people to believe that, on the internet, it is possible to be “someone else”, to create a new personality, a new story… Yet, every day we also see the opposite!
Our study showed that environmentally committed individuals also seek consistency between what they display of their online and offline engagement; and that there is therefore a continuity between the two universes, digital and physical.
Do you try to flaunt your various engagements both on social media and in everyday life?
Words of young people
“Yeah, sometimes it’s not always easy to impose yourself, it takes a lot, you have to already have enough self-confidence and not be afraid of other peoples judgement. That’s still something I’m having a little trouble with, I worry too much about other people’s opinions, so that’s why sometimes I think it slows me down a bit on the things I can do. […]”
Alexandre, 22 years old, eco-engaged
Second difficulty: staying true to one’s values in all situations
Ensuring that your actions are always in line with your values is not always easy. This requires constant work, and sometimes even efforts to justify them. It may be, as several young people have told us, that people around you point out what they consider to be contradictions in you. However, it is normal to sometimes experience a shift, because constantly adapting to different contexts, at school, at home, with different groups of friends, requires a lot of energy and effort! If you feel like this, be assured that you are not alone; many young people have told us about this difficulty in interviews.
For several respondents, there is a hierarchy of values. Sometimes, it is about respect for the culture of the other which takes precedence over their ecological values as you will see in the section “voice of young people” with the example of Alexandre. The context had led him to temporarily put his ecological practices aside. Our examples show that despite this desire to always be consistent with one’s values, there are situations in which this consistency is not often achieved. Does that mean that person is not engaged? Or that they’re not plausible?
Not in their view, because what makes the engagement is not always being perfectly consistent with one’s ecological values, but rather to aim, while respecting others, towards more coherence…
Words of young people
For example, Zoe gives us an example of a “tricky” situation:
Q: Ok, have you ever felt at odds with your ideas about ecology?
A: Yes, because… I don’t know, for example, I don’t support multinationals, but I still go to McDonald’s sometimes. Sometimes, yes it happens that I am in contradiction, like smoking a cigarette while cigarette butts destroy the oceans. But that is to do with our influences, our habits, our associations.
Q: Ok, what do you think?
A: “Well, I do everything to avoid them, but in itself it’s not easy because in our everyday life we can’t forbid ourselves everything either. And also, as long as society doesn’t change, we can’t be the only one either… as long as everyone isn’t in this vein, we can’t do everything, all alone. I can’t say “I don’t eat at McDonald’s when everyone else eats there” you know?” (Zoé, 16 years old, eco-engaged).
Zoé, 16 years old, eco-engaged
Zoe faces a problem we all face. She faces what we call, in sociology, a “tension.” On the one hand, she would like to be in tune with her ecological values. On the other hand, she values this moment of conviviality with her friends at McDonald’s. She had to make a choice. And some young people in the survey tell us that they often feel guilty when they deviate from their ecological values in these difficult times…
Have you experienced situations similar to those recounted by Zoe? If so, in what specific situations has this happened to you?
We therefore understand that the people we meet do not always share exactly the same values as us. This makes debate possible! At the same time, this can sometimes complicate our desire to be consistent, faithful to our values… Travel is another good example that illustrates this difficulty.
For some people, it is even sometimes preferable, in certain contexts, not to apply the rules relating to their ecological values:
Q: And overall, what do you think of the eco-friendly practices you have experienced during your travels in Mali?
A: Ah well, that’s clearly the thing that you’re forced to close your eyes on in spite of yourself. It’s been the most…it’s been a real job of saying “ok” to myself, I accept that I have no other solution than to pollute, to consume like a freak, but it’s also a matter of priorities in one’s values. Typically I went back to eating meat in Mali. When you see the price of meat in Mali, when you understand what it means, what a country with an average monthly income of €60 equivalent is, you understand what that represents when a roast chicken is put on your plate. You understand the effort it represents for people to manage to buy this to offer you this. A real importance is given to good hospitality, there is such a representation of famine, a fear of lacking that, paradoxically, it was perhaps in Mali that I pigged out the most. So, I consumed a lot and I consumed badly, I ate a lot of meat, it was impossible for me to refuse that, when you are invited to Eid and you know that you are going to be given the good cuts, the good ends because you are the honoured guest and you are going to be given the beautiful leg of lamb when you know very well that the women who cooked for three hours before you are going to eat three hours after you and they’re going to eat the offal, you shut your mouth and you eat that leg of lamb, you keep a low profile, you say thank you and you’re not saying “yes hello I don’t eat meat it’s not good for the planet”, no no, and that’s a question…it’s a moral question. »
Alexandre, 23 years old, eco-engaged
Third difficulty: when the search for coherence leads to feelings of uneasiness
Have you ever felt negative emotions (guilt, stress, fear) in a situation where you were unable to apply your ecological practices?
According to sociologist Geoffrey Pleyers, engagement is now experienced as a source of self-realization and an opportunity for experimentation. But the journey of engagement does not always lead to fulfillment. Several young people in our survey told us about different forms of suffering: fatigue, stress, fear, guilt… This does not appear in all those involved in environmental causes and concerns, only a part of our respondents.
What our study has enabled us to understand is that several factors can lead to these forms of suffering: an overload of “work” for people who are part of an ecological movement, a feeling of inefficiency in collective actions, an overflow of responsibility and above all, the constant search for consistency and perfection in one’s engagement. Here we will focus on this last factor.
We have previously explained to you that some people committed to ecology do not always succeed in implementing ecological practices. In reaction to this, some do not feel negative emotions and accept the fact that there is a limit in ecological engagement. On the other hand, for others, it is more difficult to accept. This is how forms of suffering (such as guilt) can appear.
However, it is important to take into consideration that in ecological engagement, perfection does not exist and that it is necessary to detach oneself from the performance standards that ensue from it. Ecological engagement therefore has limits.
- On the one hand, because contemporary and Western society does not yet provide an ideal context to be constantly consistent with one’s ecological values. Accepting this limit can help avoid a form of suffering.
- On the other hand, there is a personal limit. Individual skills, knowledge, free time and energy, do indeed form personal limits for the degree of engagement that can be achieved. In order to avoid any form of suffering, it may be interesting here to identify one’s own limits and find a balance between well-being and environmental impact.
Words of young people
Thomas’ words illustrate this idea well:
A : “Where is the limit to the ecological approach? This question is always complicated because you say to yourself, basically it implies a little bit that we have done more than you can do, but in fact we never do the maximum and we just have to accept it. We have to accept the fact that we have a minimal impact and that this minimum is in fact to be counterbalanced on our own well-being. […] There are no limits, so in fact, for me, you have to be very demanding on these issues towards yourself, and at the same time not forget that we are sensitive beings, who have needs and who says need often says impact, material and survival needs that have an impact on the environment in general. I think you have to accept that as well and to be in a process of ok, I find my balance between, that’s my minimum limit of impact. But if I go down too much, I affect my well-being too much and it has a negative effect on my life in general”.
Thomas, 27 years old, eco-engaged
Pour aller plus loin
- Bobineau Olivier, 2010, Les formes élémentaires de l’engagement : Une anthropologie du sens, Paris, Temps présent. Link to the summary
- Pleyers Geoffrey, 2016, Chapitre 1. « De la subjectivation à l’action. Le cas des jeunes alter-activistes », in Geoffrey Pleyers & Brieg Capitaine (éds.), Mouvements sociaux, Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme (p. 27‑47). En ligne sur OpenEdition Books Online here
- Pleyers Geoffrey, 2010, Alter-globalization : Becoming actors in the global age, Cambridge (USA), Polity Press. Online here