Here’s a question – would people look at you and be persuaded that your way of life is a good sort of life? Out there in the mainstream, this has everything to do with conforming to the standards laid out in adverts and in media representations. It’s simply a case of whether you look as affluent and successful and fashionable as you can. For those of us who have adopted alternative lifestyles, it’s worth wondering now and then how other people see us.
How we look tends to be a direct consequence of how we live, plus the choices we make around appearance. For the purposes of this piece I’m not talking about any inbuilt differences not subject to influence by lifestyle.
Do we want to be taken seriously? And by whom? And does that mean we need to conform to their expectations around appearance? Do we want to be seen as different, or as drop outs, social rejects, hippies, weirdoes… do we want to be accepted and respected in our differences, or do we want to be camouflaged when dealing with people who are not like us?
If we genuinely want to change things in the world, we need to persuade people that the alternatives are good and the conventions less good. We need to function as adverts for our beliefs, because we are competing with the vast advertising budgets of capitalist consumerism. If we look persuasive, we may persuade others that it isn’t all bean curd and hair shirts, and that you can live a low impact life without being miserable. If we took away the commercial advertising and judged conventional living on its consequences, people would be a good deal less persuaded by it.
When I’m walking for transport, I make a point of smiling cheerfully at the long queues of traffic I frequently pass. I generally am happy when I’m walking, I look like someone who is having a good time, and I see the faces in the slow moving cars and know that they are not. I’m the one with the freedom of the open road. However, all some people will see is that I go everywhere in walking boots and that there’s often mud around my ankles. A person for whom shiny shoes trumps everything is never going to be persuaded by me as an advert for walking everywhere.
I’m not an advert for being an author. I have no problem with this. I’m fairly representative of the 95% of authors who do not earn anything like enough to live on. We could do with a lot more realism about how the industry works, and the odds of even earning a minimum wage by writing.
We’re all of us in a constant process of expressing our values and the consequences of our way of life to everyone else – through our actions and how we look and seem. It’s worth taking a step back and wondering how you look to other people, if you’re interested in making change. Are you persuasive? Are other people going to wish they were more like you?
And if the conclusion you come to is that from the outside your way of living is not attractive or persuasive, or that no one would want the kind of life you have, there may be other questions to ask.