Saturday, May 23, 2009

A happier, greener world from the inside out

I was always very passionate about environmental issues and "saving the world". As early as 16 I was volunteering at an environmental organization and for certain periods of my life it was almost a 24/7 thing. BIG actions had to be taken. RIGHT NOW. QUICK.


It didn't take me long to realize there was something out of place. Many of the people I most admired and considered my environmental mentors seemed cheerful on the ouside, but in truth their lives were crumbling. They did impressive "green deeds", but didn't have time for their own spouses and children. Most of their life was dedicated to environmentalism, but there was a bitterness to them, as if they were carrying a dark cloud right above their heads. And despite their great deeds, many didn't have enough energy to take smaller green steps in their daily lives. Some had health issues such as depression, obesity, and high blood pressure.


I can't even say these people didn't practice what they preached, because they did a lot (and still do) and due to them my corner of the world is certainly better and greener. However, they paid a huge price for it in their own lives and some became so bitter and pessimistic as to almost forget their true relationship with nature - that we and the Earth are one.


One day I was talking to another raw foodist and she was telling me this story about an environmentalist she met. He was ranting about all the big problems of the world - climate change, pollution, and the like - "and then went out and bought a plastic bottle of pasteurized, 'dead' orange juice". She just couldn't understand how an environmentalist could pollute his own body - the environment closest to him.


I confess I haven't always thought of it in that way. In the past I believed everything started small, in our own homes, but other than the vegetarian/vegan debate on cruelty against animals, I had never really stopped to think about the environmental impact of our diet.


And there is more to what starts in our own homes. A few years ago I used to host a discussion group on "citizenship and quality of life" here in Brazil and one day while discussing education a middle school teacher shared an impressive story. At the time she taught at a school in a low income and extremely violent area. The kids were much older than their classes' age and were very hard to handle. Teachers often received life threats. She tried to be patient and caring and to understand their problems, but she confessed sometimes it was hard.


One day a student from another class killed another student after school, with a knife. I belive they were around 14 years old. She was profoundly disurbed by the fact, of course, and kept thinking of how it could have been avoided. What is it that the boy needed that day - a caring word, a little bit of extra attention, or even just a smile?


From then on she began to be extra attentive with her students and would always ask how they were, what was going on at home, etc., and try to help as best as she could. The class' behavior improved visibly, but there was this one boy who only seemed to get worse and it was clearly personal. No matter what she did to please him, he only seemed to hate her more.


One day when she couldn't take it any longer, she decided to keep him after class for some talk. She asked point blank why he hated her and treated her so badly. He was taken by surprise and stopped to think for a moment. Right then it downed on him that it had nothing to do with her. He had never realized it before, but she looked exactly like his stepmother, who treated him very cruelly.


After that their relationship was great and, needless to say, he flourished in class. Yet what if she had been drawn into his negativity and just fought back? What if she really took it personally and responded just as aggresively? I don't even want to think about what could have happened...


The reason I brought in this example was to show how "small", positive attitudes can make a big difference in many situations. Every day it becomes clearer to me how we are NOT going to truly change the world by being bitter or with attitudes like "I'm better than you because I'm greener and eat healthier or am 100% raw". The change has to happen within and the only way we can help is by being respectful to each person's path and setting an example without even expecting anything in return. Environmentally, big actions, laws, etc., are important, but they will only make complete sense when each person has internalized them.


"But there will be no time to wait for everyone to internalize these things", some people will think. It is sad to say, but I feel many people will only learn after great disasters happen. We are being quite preposterous when we say we should try to save the world, when we cannot even destroy it completely - unless someone invents this ultra-mega powerful weapon that would crumble the planet into pieces, I believe the world will certainly get rid of us first. Most environmentalists won't admit to this even under torture (me included in the past), but I feel we are really trying to save our own skins.


This does NOT mean we don't have a HUGE NEGATIVE IMPACT on the Earth. We most certainly do. Yet the Earth knows how to take care of itself. All the new or more rapidly spreading diseases that are linked to environmental issues is just a teeny example (see the book "Having Faith: An Ecologist's Journey into Motherhood", for example). NOT that the Earth is consciously creating ways to get rid of human beings, but there are surely signals to make us rethink our lives and practices.


A thought that usually complements the "there will be no time" logic is "since there's no time anyway, I might as well blow it too and do whatever I feel like as long as I can" (in an environmentally unsound way, that is) - also known as "the social trap" among social scientists. I could right a whole post on that but, simply put, I don't want to know I'm part of the destruction process, even if I were certain everything is doomed. Many people have found that finding an Earth-friendly path is not only a way to help the planet, but also a way to learn and grow personally, as a family, and as a community.


There are hundreds of examples of that online, but one I can think of now is the blog These Days in French Life, which recounts the story of a family who embarked on a non-consumerism journey. It did not even start for environmental reasons, and in the author's words:


"I am having fun with it, discovering so much about myself and our planet along the way and hopefully inspiring my close circle of friends and readers to do the same. We are happier, more content with what we have and cherish each other and what nature give us without the constraints of money in our lives.


"Also, I feel more grounded and in touch with 'mamie' who lived through some tough times and I am discovering her world and past generations traditions along the way. I feel very blessed to have stumbled upon this through the slow year."


What could be better than that? A slow, harmonious, satisfying way to live life - and anyone can find their own special way to do it if they wish. The extra bonus of leaving a lighter footprint on the planet, regardless of the possibility of future "doom".

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In sum, I am an eager advocate of "saving the world from the inside out" by giving importance to positivity, stoping and feeling a connection to the Earth, finding our path (even if it means taking "only" small steps), learning along the way, and setting a loving example. How about starting NOW? :)


1 comment:

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