The other day I was talking to someone about cutting processed food out of my diet, she said (with some irritation), “Well, I grew up eating junk food and I’m just fine!”
It reminded me of when car seat belts first were installed (before children’s car seats). A friend at the time told me, “Well, I’m not going to use them and I’m certainly not forcing my kids to wear them. When I was growing up, we had a station wagon and we kids played in the back on our trip across the country and back and believe it or not, we survived!”
These responses fascinate me. They infer that respondents don’t believe that something new could possibly have been discovered, that their own experience is the basis on which they make all decisions and that they know for certain that nothing we do or have done in our lives may affect us in the future.
So when thinking about why the rates for so many diseases have soared (from cancers to autism to diabetes), I don’t need to wonder why it is difficult for people to accept that perhaps something they are eating or in their environment, could be triggering, creating or worsening these problems.
Let’s face it. We mostly live on autopilot. It’s easier that way. And when confronted with an idea that runs counter to desires or habits, the “…and I’m fine” response pops out. And once it has, people feel the need to defend it.
Anyone who is involved in sustainability hopes to influence people to change their minds about a huge variety of issues from thinking there is such a thing as “clean coal,” to eliminating BPA from cash register receipts to substituting healthier alternatives for Halloween candy. We’ve all run into people whose reaction to our thinking is, “Hey, I lived next door to a cement plant and I’m fine.” “Or I was raised on soda and candy and I’m not fat,” or, well, you get the idea.
I would wish that when we are approached with a new idea, even when it runs counter to what we believe, we would be open to the possibility that we, or our doctors or our government officials could be wrong. I’m not saying we or they are or that every new idea merits our immediate adoption. But new discoveries are being made all the time about how the environment affects our health and the health of the planet. Is every one definitively proven? Nope. But if we automatically react to those that run counter to our own experience or thinking, how does that help anything?
Will cutting processed food (primarily laden with GMOs) out of my diet prolong my life or make it less likely that I develop the host of diseases these products can cause? Is it too late for me? Too late for the planet? I don’t know. But I do believe it’s worth my time to evaluate new information rather than automatically reject it.
The downsides of investigating when new ideas come up are: 1. I may end up confused by conflicting information and 2. Research is time-consuming.
But for me, it’s worth the time, trouble and mucking about in gray areas to know I’ve done my best to understand and come to a conclusion that works for me.
I don’t trust my own judgment on autopilot. Should you?
Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson are mother and daughter and authors of Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, and founders of Green Halloween®.
CC Image by cattisb via Flickr