How NOT to Show Others the “Light”, The Psychological Quirk of Reactance.

Amy is a 20-something year old who doesn’t feel as healthy as she should for her age.  In response, she improves her diet cutting out sugar, carbs, and processed foods.  She gradually feels better and her physical appearance improves.  This sense of well being combined with positive feedback pushes her on.  One day Amy hears the phrase “is your stomach a graveyard?”  This of course refers to the consumption of animal products.  The line is enough to introduce her to the world of veganism.  Amy cuts out all meat, eggs, and dairy from her diet and carefully substitutes them with plant based equivalents.  She’s meticulously tweaks her meals to get the right nutritional balance.  The change is a success and she wants to share this revelation with the world.  At first her friends are supportive, they aren’t ready to give up meat but are happy at Amy’s changes.  However, what started out as a lifestyle change slowly becomes an obsession.  Amy couldn’t help but bring veganism into every conversation or social media post.  To make matters worse, she begins to shame others who don’t embrace her lifestyle.  When she goes out to eat with friends, “meat is murder” has to be uttered at least once.  In Amy’s mind, persistence would show others the light.  The actual end product of her method is quite the opposite.  Amy notices that her friends start going out without her.  They also miss important updates in her life as they no longer follow her.  Some of her more vivacious comrades begin to mock her by posting pictures of T-Bone steaks with the caption “glad I’m a carnivore”.  She’s unwittingly created an army of anti-vegans.

To everyone who’s passionate about a cause, you should be aware of a quirk in human psychology.  This is known as reactance  In a nutshell, it is a reaction to offers, persons, rules, or regulation that threaten or eliminate specific behavioral freedoms.  When a person is pressured to accept a view, they will instead resist it.  In the mainstream, one of the best examples is climate change.  You can’t watch a nature documentary or severe weather report without it being mentioned.  Celebrities and politicians will go on and on about it.  The government might impose new laws or taxes in order to combat it.  The end result is a populace that tunes the issue out or actively resists it.  Interesting how climate change deniers have grown in lockstep with the medias obsession.  Another more extreme example would be religious ideology.  Despite decades or hard line Islamic rule, you can see Iran bursting at the seems with rebellion.  Woman who have been indoctrinated their whole lives shed the hijab in protest.  The more the government cracks down, the more agitated the people become.

I’m not without guilt when it comes to this.  However, I’ve learned that there are better ways to convince someone than nagging them to death or restricting their freedoms.  We subconsciously look at the lives of others as a measure of validity to their ideas.  What is in our mind will eventually manifest itself in the physical world.  You can be a Christian and talk about Jesus all day.  If your life is a hot mess, chances are I’ll be tuning you out.  You can be a feminist and claim that a woman’s word isn’t taken seriously.  If you have a tendency to shy away or give up during tough debates, you aren’t making a case for yourself.  You can be a traditionalist and attempt to convince me that family is the greatest joy in the world.  If you’re constantly fighting with your wife and your children behave like demon spawns, I’ll beg to differ.  Even if you’re spot on, you also have to consider if I’m actively seeking the truth or not.  You aren’t going to convince the apathetic.  In the case of Amy, all she had to do is live her healthy lifestyle and not force it on others.  I’ve been on a health regimen and eventually someone contacts me and asks what I’m doing.  There was absolutely no need to push it on them.  Likewise, I’m not here to change your behavior.  What you do with this information is up to you.

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