"If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.... We need not wait to see what others do."
A new year...
There's something about the beginning of a new year; a sense of renewal, a sense of expectancy and anticipation. Perhaps things will be better this year; perhaps we will find new loves, fulfill new dreams; leave old loves and dreams behind....
And even though my practice is to live fully in the now; accepting and celebrating all that it contains; joy, sorrow, peace, confusion, fulfillment and heartbreak, I still have thoughts of renewal, wish-dreams, vision quests; in short, resolutions...
While I am sitting in Starbucks, writing in my journal about things I want, but don't have yet, but I still want...I am drinking a cafe latte that cost me $3; the equivalent of the the world median daily income. I take a moment to acknowledge the great wealth of my life and to feel gratitude.
And then my thoughts turn to the state of the world and to consciousness of great suffering around me. Everywhere I look, on the news, in the social media, in interactions with people on the streets I see so much suffering, so much fear, so much anger, so much pain... In this moment of contemplation about renewal I am filled with a sense of longing to help conflicting with a deep feeling of powerlessness. What can I do? What can one person do?
But although I am only one person, I am one American person who lives the most privileged existence that any human in the history of humans has ever lived. I have great freedom of choice and great wealth. Sometimes subjectively, it seems as if I am not particularly wealthy; after all, I don't have a fancy car, a large house or expensive vacations. But that view is an obvious distortion. Remember that Starbucks latte which cost as much as the median daily income of the world...
So I give myself a short course in economics. And I know what I can do. As an American citizen, I am also part of one of the largest economic power blocks in the world. I am not referring to investment banks and oil corporations, but to the American consumer. In the aggregate, we spend approximately $4.5 trillion on goods and services each year. This is more than ten times the annual revenue of the largest corporate entity in the world. If money does indeed make the world go round, then that should be enough money to begin changing the world.
And how would that work? It begins when we realize and understand that we control a huge amount of money. We've heard it said before, "with great privilege goes great responsibility". Each time we spend one of our dollars, we are making a choice; voting -- by choosing where to spend them -- for the kind of world we want to live in.
So bringing this back to myself, I make a resolution in support of my own vision quest for the world; more kindness, more love, more joy, more peace.
Resolution: Beginning now, today, I will use the money I spend as a force for change by supporting only businesses and practices that are aligned with my values...and vision, in the following ways:
1. I re-commit to reducing my personal dependence on oil and gas companies, planes, and automobiles. Consider the following:
- Of the 50 largest companies in the world, 32 of them are energy and automobile companies. These companies represent huge concentrations of wealth into the hands of very few people; most of these corporate cultures do not exhibit environmentally conscious behavior.
- Many oil and gas companies are direct supporters of terrorism and of people and cultures notorious for their suppression of and violence toward women.
- Automobiles are the second largest producer of greenhouse gasses, after electricity, in the US. (We can discuss alternative electricity later...)
I believe that the quality of my own life has been enhanced by living and working within a small geographical area and using mass-transit systems to get back and forth to work. For one thing, there is the time factor:
According to a study done by the Harvard Health Watch, an average American spends 101 minutes per day driving. That means that in a lifetime, an average Joe spends a whopping 37,935 hours driving a car (assuming that s/he starts driving at 17 and drives until 78.7 years old). In that time, average Joe will drive around 798,000 miles (1,284,256 kilometers), which is approximately the distance it takes to drive to the moon more than three times!" (http://blog.tempoplugin.com/2013/7-time-consuming-things-an-average-joe-spends-in-a-lifetime/)
In addition, while riding the train, I can catch up on work, read and learn, or just sit, relax and listen to music or have a conversation with another commuter. When I travel, an airplane is my last choice rather than my first. I have made friends and seen many wonderful things while traveling in trains, busses and boats...
2. I will use recycled, up-cycled and second-hand products whenever possible. This includes things like clothing and household goods.
The current economic model of consumption is to consume many things and to throw them away to make room for more consumption -- and production and consumption, etc., consuming precious resources and creating massive waste problems. Fortunately there is also an enormous developing economy based on second-hand, up-cycled and recycled products. So it is easy to buy many beautiful and useful things this way -- and often for much less money!
3. When I need to purchase new products and services, I will purchase them as close to their source as possible, from the producers of those goods and services. This practice supports the artisans, designers and craftspeople and allows money to circulate in the local community rather than being concentrated into large corporate entities. By buying locally and close to the source, I can ensure that I am supporting labor practices that are aligned with my values and vision. Consider this:
- There are currently 250 million children between the ages of of 5-14 in enforced labor in developing countries; most of whom are producing clothing, shoes, rugs, coffee and chocolate.
- 85 - 90% of sweatshop workers are girls or women.
- According to the National Labor Committee, women in developing countries sewing NBA jerseys earn 24 cents per garment that will sell in the US for $140.
4. When I buy things from large global corporations, I will do my homework. I will buy only from corporations who are making genuine efforts -- not simply greenwashing -- to create sustainability in their manufacturing and transportation processes; who have transparent labor policies and practices which ensure their employees are well-treated and being offered genuine opportunities for reasonable quality of life and upward mobility; whose practices are whole-heartedly progressive with respect to their treatment of women, children and ethnic minorities; and whose business and practices support progressive and egalitarian social policies.
5. I will buy organic foods and whenever possible I will buy from local farmers. I will only buy meat and poultry from farmers who are using humane methods of raising animals for dairy and meat products. I will eat at locally-owned restaurants who also source their foods locally. When I need to buy things that cannot be sourced locally -- such as feeding my coffee addiction -- I will only buy coffee beans from farms where the workers and practices are sustainable and humane.
Organic farming produces healthier foods and uses sustainable practices that nurture rather than deplete the environment. Buying locally supports the prosperity of local farmers rather than large agri-businesses, lowers fuel consumption for transporting foods, and allows money to remain in circulation in the local economy rather than concentrating more wealth into fewer hands.
It is becoming increasingly easier to buy a variety of local and sustainably-produced foods. In New England there are farmers building and using greenhouse technologies to produce a wide variety of fresh produce during the winter months. And the federal government is providing grants for farmers to help them expand and erect more greenhouses; an encouraging indicator that there are public and private partnerships developing to support the trend to locally sourced sustainably-produced foods.
If you have read this far please understand; this is not intended to be a condemnation of capitalist ideology. There are many beautiful and necessary things that enrich and add quality to our lives produced through the concentration of capital; pharmaceuticals medical equipment, automobiles, airplanes, spaceships, computers, stereos, trains, planes and automobiles. However, these things are intended to enhance the quality of everyone's lives - not just a few, to serve humanity, not to enslave, destroy the environment and lock people into poverty.
I believe that art, style, beauty, culture, sophistication, progress, travel; all of these things can be part of a sustainable life and can also be attained by the many rather than just the few. In the coming months and years I will share my idea and discoveries for cultivating a conscious, sustainable and beautiful lifestyle and I welcome your ideas as well.
We are all in this together, tied to the same wheel; we are riding a tiger and many of us would love to climb off. This is one person's attempt to begin pulling a few of the tiger's fangs... Join me?