In the early years of sociology, Harriet Martineau recommended that we pay attention to the relationship between morals and manners, or, in other words, between what we believe in versus what we do. I often refer to this as the tension between principle and practice.

Today I came across an article in which an environmentalist gives voice to this same tension. It’s a kind of look-in-the-mirror article that calls on environmentalists (herself included) to analyze their everyday actions in terms of their environmental impacts, in other words to practice what they preach. In an article that appears in Orion Magazine, titled “Altar Call for True Believers,” Janisse Ray writes:

PERHAPS THE HARDEST THING FOR ME IN LIFE is contradiction. There is an ancient enmity between deed and creed, it seems. Knowing the complexity of the human psyche, my own included, I never expect the two to align perfectly. Nor are contradictions easy to recognize in ourselves. However, when words and actions are obviously incongruous, I start to feel crazy, and in the face of new and startling evidence of environmental catastrophe, the contradictions are almost too much to bear.

Or later in the article she puts it even more succinctly:

We have to believe with our bodies what we know in our minds to be true.

Sociology can help us to be more intentional in recognizing such inconsistencies. While perfect balance may be unattainable, we should be involved in more active discussions in which we seek to better understand what we are doing, what we actually believe in, and how we should proceed.

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