Can the way I live really make a difference?
That's one of the things we worry about, right? When it comes to figuring out whether to get involved in the political process or to make our lifestyles more sustainable, we all wonder if, in fact, we will make the slightest bit of difference. Is it worth the effort?
Well, I have a friend, Mayer Vishner, who has been a peace activist since the 1960s. I help him grow vegetables on his plot at Laguardia Community Gardens in New York's Greenwich Village.
I once joked with Mayer, "Hey Mayer, you've been working for peace for 40 years. Don't you think it's time you looked for a new cause? I'm not sure your peace idea has any traction."
You know what he said? He said, "I've given up on worrying about the results. I have a vision of the way the world should be, and I've just come to accept that it's in my nature to keep trying. So I keep trying."
Michael Pollan, in his New York Times article on Sunday, makes a more rational case for taking action:
"If you do bother, you will set an example for other people. If enough other people bother, each one influencing yet another in a chain reaction of behavioral change, markets for all manner of green products and alternative technologies will prosper and expand. (Just look at the market for hybrid cars.) Consciousness will be raised, perhaps even changed: new moral imperatives and new taboos might take root in the culture. Driving an S.U.V. or eating a 24-ounce steak or illuminating your McMansion like an airport runway at night might come to be regarded as outrages to human conscience. Not having things might become cooler than having them. And those who did change the way they live would acquire the moral standing to demand changes in behavior from others — from other people, other corporations, even other countries."
I completely agree with Michael. I have faith. On the other hand, maybe he's right. Maybe he's not. How can we know for sure?
So sometimes, the question of whether we can make a difference or not may be the wrong question. I think another line of inquiry might just as productively go like this: Do I want to be the kind of person who tries or the kind of person who doesn't?
It took me 42 years to realize it, but I want to be like Mayer Vishner. I want to be the kind of person who tries. Whether Michael Pollan is 100% right or 50% or 10% right, when the game is over, I want to be one of the people who tried. Whether the world is saved or not, whether I'm still alive to see it or not, I want to be able to say I tried.
And I'm not saying I'm perfect or that I'm never selfish or that I don't ever want an iPhone. I'm saying that given my set of circumstances and my temperament, within those limitations, not willing to martyr myself or anything like that, I still want to be the type of person who tries--even if the chance of results look slim.
So today, writing this blog, given all the effort I spend trying to affirmatively answer that question of whether each of us can make a difference, what I'm much more interested in today is this question:
How can I be the kind of person who tries?
PS For those of you who care, I finally have a profile on Facebook. It's here.
Colin Beavan (that's me!) is now leading a conversation about finding a happy, helpful life at Colinbeavan.com. If you want to know how people are breaking out and and finding authentic, meaningful lives that help our world, check it out the blog here and sign up to join the conversation here.