Posted on Tue 07 January 2020

Competing values

I've been thinking a lot lately about how personal values, interests, and hobbies often clash. Pick any value or interest you have and you'll probably find a group of people talking about it online. For most of my own average, mainstream, privileged interests, there are people on every social media platform talking about them, teaching others what they know, even trying to make money from others with the same interests.

But these communities tend to be very one-sided. They focus on the interest or value at the exclusion of all else. If you're selling courses, books, videos, or physical products, or even just trying to build a following on social media, this makes sense. But it's not how humans work.

I've been feeling frustrated at how difficult it is to reconcile my various interests and values. I seem to have to make comprises at every turn, and being hyper-aware of these compromises is exhausting.

One of my values is protecting the environment in my own small way by trying not to create more waste than necessary. This is a particularly problematic value when trying to combine it with any other value or interest. For example, I've been trying the Curly Girl Method for about six months now. This method is basically a set of rules for looking after curly and wavy hair to keep it healthy. One of the rules is to avoid silicones and sulfates, which are in most conventional hair products. Using only sulfate- and silicone-free products means I end up buying plastic tubes, bottles, and tubs that I would prefer to avoid. I also often pay for shipping costs, since these products aren't as readily available as those the method suggests avoiding, and increase the strain I'm creating on the environment by adding the energy and waste created by shipping to my total. Of course, I realise I'm not going to save or destroy the environment on my own, and I'm not aiming to be 100% perfect and completely waste-free, but it still bothers me when I have to compromise in this way. If I were to buy locally-made, unpackaged products such as shampoo bars, from local shops so there's no shipping involved once it leaves the shelf, I'd have to give up on my sulfate and silicon ban and content myself to reducing my hair's health.

Buying sustainable products in any area can be tricky, because there's less choice and often the best choices aren't available locally so I have to have them imported, negating some of the benefits of buying sustainable products in the first place.

This problem pops up in less serious arenas of life as well. I enjoy the minimalist lifestyle and don't like owning a lot of stuff. But I also enjoy baking, which requires equipment. The more I get into baking, the more new types of recipes I try, the more I have to fill up my kitchen with equipment. And each purchase of something new prompts a whole lot of research about the durability of various materials, the environmental impact of creating the item, and the options for recycling it at the end of its life.

I don't have a good answer for any of this. Compromise is part of life, so I suppose we have to get used to it and carry on. The stronger I feel about my values, and the more interests and hobbies I explore, the more I notice this issue cropping up. But it's boring to make your life revolve around one interest or value, so in the end the compromises must be worth it.

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