Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Why Bother?

(Okay, I've been working on this post for days now, and I can't seem to find away to express myself eloquently, so you'll just have to take it as it comes.)

Colin Beavan, aka No Impact Man, asked this question recently. He was referring to readers who basically question the difference that one person can make in regards to the environment and global warming.

The difference that one person can make in another's life, or in the world, is as I mentioned yesterday, a subject that is dear to me heart. All of my life I have believed that I should do what is right, even if it seems that no one else is doing it. For years I eschewed animal products, steadfastly refused to buy any product that had been tested on animals, carried canvas bags to the grocery store, and much, much more.

The question, why bother, is really a question as to whether or not one should care. Don't tell me that plenty of people care, but don't bother, because if you care you do bother. If you don't bother you're just giving lip service to caring. It isn't just the thought that counts; a thought without action has no chance of making a difference. That phrase, it's the thought that counts, specifically applies to actions that turn out wrong, even if the intent was a good one. For instance, we say it when someone knits a sweater that turns out too small or too big. The action that resulted from the thought didn't turn out perfectly, but the thought behind the action was a good one.

This is a little peeve of mine. When someone says they thought of calling me on my birthday, but they got busy, and well, it's the thought that counts, I want to say, "No, it doesn't count." Either I am important enough to call or I am not. Thinking about it isn't good enough. For instance, we are thinking about selling our trailer so we can downsize our one and only vehicle. I don't know what the outcome is going to be, but I do know that just thinking about selling the trailer and truck doesn't get me better gas mileage and lower my carbon impact.

Why bother? We bother because we care. We care because we are human. The scope and range of our caring depends on how much we open ourselves to what is happening around us, the resources we have to apply to the situation, and our own sense of right and wrong.

My own sense of caring, and of compassion and justice, have grown as I've gotten older. I've always felt badly when someone experienced a loss, but when I was younger I didn't have the resources to apply to the situation. I hadn't learned to say "I'm sorry" and "What can I do?". I hadn't learned that even in a situation that I could do nothing about I could simply say, "I don't know what to say. I'm sorry you are hurting, and I know I can't do anything to make it better."

Now, this might not seem like it is connected to global warming and the environment, but please, give me a chance to work this out. I believe that caring about global warming requires that we are able to connect with other people. I also believe that the connection begins at a local, community level. We need to take meals to new families, and to the sick and the elderly. We need to get out of our cars and help someone push a stalled car out of traffic. We need to let go of the fear of lawsuits and help a child that has gotten hurt if we are the closest one on the playground. Don't know what I mean? Go to a playground and observe what happens when a child falls down. Adults will stand around, unsure of what to do, while they wait for a parent to come to the crying child. Very few will bend down and try to comfort the child, even fewer will put an arm around the child to comfort her.

What I am really trying to say is that you have to care about very local things~your neighbors, the people within your community, your watershed, your polluted streams, your drought, the air you personally breathe~you have to connect with and care about these things before you can move outward with any real meaning. Sending $30 a month to Save the Children may assuage our guilt, but it doesn't end our responsibility. We have to ask the hard questions: why are children suffering in Bangladesh? How does global warming impact the flooding they experience? How does shrimp farming affect their water supply and their local economies?

Being grounded within your own place, your own community, helps you see the bigger picture. It helps you know that you can't just throw money at the problem and still eat farmed shrimp and emit carbon at an unfair and alarming rate.

I suppose I've wandered away from Colin's original question. I guess my answer is that we bother because we are human beings, and when we are connected to that very true fact we then connect to our wisdom, vitality, and compassion. We bother because we care for our children, and our community's children, and the children of the world. We bother because we want the human race to go on. This common bond of humanity transcends religious beliefs, social status, ethnicity, and political affiliations.

We bother because we absolutely can make a difference.

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