THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT
Be Kinder to Yourself, Save the World
Capitalism — the driving force behind climate change — thrives on our shame and self-hatred
The Arctic is on fire.
But we keep talking about carbon emissions like they’re the problem.
Carbon emissions are not the problem.
Carbon emissions are a byproduct of human behaviour.
Humans are the problem!
We only have so much energy. We’re wasting too much time talking about carbon emissions when we need to be getting rid of the behaviour at the root — not the stem/symptom.
Except… that’s not entirely true, is it? While individual impact is real — and imperative to address — we didn’t come out of the womb wrapped in plastic and hungry to consume. No. The root of the problem lies with the culture that taught us to behave in this destructive manner.
Capitalism, the ideological force behind our culture, reinforces negativity and fear in its citizens. Because the less we like ourselves, the likelier we are to buy things we don’t need, to drown our sorrows in clothesfoodalcohol and become too paralyzed to create tangible change. Capitalism — the fuel to the climate change fire — thrives on our self-hatred.
Every time you beat yourself up for not doing enough to save the planet, to save yourself, to — heck — save your thoughts from the gutter, a parallel universe Cheeto Dust Voldemort gets its wings.
I hear it everyday, the pained cry of a Good Human buried under their beliefs of worthlessness. It’s too overwhelming. I feel stuck, helpless. It’s all meaningless, anyway. I just want to reach out, rock them softly and say, Be gentle with yourself! This is how they win. They’ve taught you to feel helpless. It’s not your fault!
Because it isn’t our fault.
Capitalism programmed us to believe that consumerism is the path to happiness. Greed-driven oligarchs and plutocrats shaped our behaviour by teaching us that our human worth comes from hard work and material gain. We feel insignificant because we’ve been conditioned to feel insignificant.
That’s what keeps the fear-consume cycle spinning: the belief that we are not enough.
The problems we are up against can be incredibly overwhelming, and when we believe that we are not doing enough we often slip into feelings of shame— the belief that we are not capable of enacting the change needed to keep humanity alive.
These feelings of shame undermine our ability to be present and leave us prone to anger, stagnating our ability to take steps toward tangible action. Capitalism uses shame as a tool to keep people in line. While it is true that we are not currently doing enough to save ourselves, engaging with feelings of shame is of zero use.
Because shame doesn’t motivate us, shame causes paralysis; it undermines our ability to be present and leaves us prone to anger, stagnating our ability to take steps toward tangible action. And what do so many of us do when we feel ashamed, paralyzed, or stuck? We numb — with prescription pills, sugar, alcohol, work, shopping, vacations… all the things we need to give up or sharply moderate in order to save the world.
Dreams of perfection are fatal to social change movements. Despite their vision of a better society, such movements are made up of idealists who are far from perfect. They are attempting to change a society that has already profoundly conditioned them to believe themselves unworthy of love, and the system to be incapable of change.
We need to divest from negative thinking as taught by Capitalism. As we work to save the world — to save humanity from extinction — we must not only divest from fossil fuels, palm oil, animal agriculture and other obvious, tangible catalysts of climate change, we also must divest from the ideological beliefs that form the basis of our consumption patterns and planet destroying behaviours.
The purpose of our negative mind is to protect us, not perpetuate self-flagellating beliefs. The negative mind’s job is to scan our environment for danger, help us set boundaries, say “no,” and understand when enough is enough — not to tell us we’re worthless, that this situation is hopeless, or we’ll only be happy if we buy that shirt / plane ticket / celebrity-endorsed artisanal gin. The time has come time to retrain our negative minds to work for us so we can tell when the culture is attempting to manipulate us.
To break free of this cycle, we must break free of the thought pattern that created it. Capitalism relies on our inability to sit with our discomfort. We are taught that is not okay to be uncomfortable — advertising and news media constantly reinforce the belief that we should be happy all of the time. We’re taught that negative emotions like anger and grief are “bad” while positive feelings like joy and happiness are “good.”
These stories belong to an ideology we need to leave behind. It’s time to take a hard look at WHY our culture teaches us to celebrate or suppress emotions. Does anger not teach us about our morals and boundaries? Would happiness not lose meaning without sadness? Does grief not show us the depths of our humanity?
Whatever feelings arise, “negative” or “positive”, understand that they are valid emotional experiences. Controlling your negative mind is about processing emotions, not suppressing them. We need to stop falling into the consumerist trap that has us buying products instead of sitting with and releasing uncomfortable emotions.
If self-hatred feeds Capitalism, could radical self-love dismantle it?
Things aren’t going to magically change just because we’re kinder to ourselves, but things will change when we take the energy we waste feeling crappy and helpless and stuck and put that energy towards productive, tangible, world-saving actions.
When negative thoughts arise, ask yourself: Who is this thought serving? Where did it come from? Was it born out of a Capitalist belief system designed to keep me paralyzed? Or is it showing me how to live a better life and better serve the planet? The gentler we are with ourselves, the more we create space to slow down, reflect, and shift into new ways of being.
Saving the planet is easier than we think. The time has come to be radical and the change starts inside our minds. Be kind to yourself and all those around you. The revolution is self-love.
Kelly Tatham is a storyteller and philosopher. She is here to dismantle the story of love in our culture and help shift the consciousness toward whatever’s next. Sign up for her “Climate Change in the Multiverse” newsletter and show your support.