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How we’ll do this…

December 9, 2009

A good herd mentality can be a great ally in breaking out of consumerism

OK, this is the big question: how do you transform consumerism? How do you make it fairer, more generous, less damaging to childhoods and communities, and kinder on the planet and the poor?

A multi-pronged approach is needed. Some of the changes come from inside the system: fair trade uses people’s buying habits to change the way trade works (we’ve eaten Cadbury’s Dairy Milk pretty much non-stop since it adopted the Fair Trade mark!). Other changes alter the way the system works: regulation has a part to play in limiting the power of advertising, and government can help discourage a life of limit-less acquisition. But the real key is something else: us.

We are the consumers – transformation can only take place if we ourselves are changed. And the way to do that is together. Professor Neil Adger of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research says, “we need to understand what motivates people, what it is that allows them to make a change… It is actually about what their peers think of them, what their social norms are, what is seen as desirable in society.” Dr Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion agrees: “Birds flock together, fish school together, cattle herd together [he got a Phd for this stuff??!]…just perceiving norms is enough to cause peopl to deflect their behaviour in th edirection of the crowd”.

This is where Breathe comes in. It’s an alternative crowd, a flock headed in a different direction, a new social norm. The more we connect with others who resist the consumer dream, the stronger our resolve becomes. The more stories we tell (like Hilary Goodwin’s moving account of her wonderful neighbour Cary), the more real the alternative way becomes. It’s what sociologists call a ‘court of reputation’: we begin to measure ourselves by other criteria. We realise that we’re not alone. We draw courage and inspiration from each other. We’re less likely to settle for the status quo.

That’s why in coming months we’re inviting a few more writers to join the Breathe blog. That’s why we’ll be runnning conferences in 2010. That’s why we invite people to subscribe to our monthly email. We’re encouraging an alternative herd mentality, not based on mindless consumption but thoughtful generosity. Despite our many failings, we’re breaking new trails. We’re transforming the system. One consumer at a time. Join us.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Daniel Mandrychenko permalink
    December 17, 2009 3:29 am

    I love the idea of this website and this is something I have been pursing subconsciously for some time now. How can I be more active in this idea?

  2. Mark permalink
    December 17, 2009 11:19 am

    Hi Daniel, thanks for the encouragement! We send out monthly emails to anyone who subscribes at The links on the right side of the page will hopefully connect you with ways to get active (depending on where your passions lie).
    But also there’s the Consumer Detox, and in 2010 a whole new set of resources we’re bringing out to help inspire each other to live differently. So watch this space!


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