This article was first published in the Huffington Post on April 15, 2016
The world is a beautiful place, but somehow it seems that humankind’s presence here has done more harm than good. As a species, we kill other species and our own; we destroy natural habitats of wildlife, while mindlessly depleting our own food supplies. Poverty and inequality plague us, and have done so for decades. We are shooting ourselves in our own metaphorical foot…and the way we are moving, eating, consuming, and behaving is simply not sustainable.
For most of us, this is common knowledge. Even the United Nations, one of the world’s largest international organizations, has noted that things must change, and soon. It’s done this through the creation and promotion of the Sustainable Development Goals (aka. The Global Goals). 17 goals ranging from zero hunger to protecting life in our oceans, are nicely branded and shared widely as an aspiration for the United Nations to reach towards.
But, these goals are not for the institution of the United Nations alone. While they originate from the UN, they actually stem from a global survey, and I doubt that anyone would look at this list and think “Nope, we really don’t need to work on any/all of this as humanity.” Actually, I think most people would look at these goals with a quiet recognition sounding more like “Oh yeah..we messed up pretty bad, didn’t we?”
The goals are actually, for all of us.
Now, before we start to feel too guilty and wallow in the feelings that may inevitably arise when we look at these 17 boxes and contemplate the state of the world today (including the truly unnecessary stuff that’s out there, like the complex wars, battles for oil, and let’s not forget the questionable political tactics and fear-mongering of certain politicians) – we need to make an acknowledgment. Actually, we need to make a few:
First, we created these problems.
Secondly, we are responsible for solving them..and ideally, as Albert Einstein once famously said, to not “solve problems with the same way of thinking that created them.”
Lastly, we need to recognize that we can, if we choose to, make positive steps towards achieving these goals, on a personal level. We don’t have to dawn a superhero cape and save the world on our own, either.
I can hear the questions already arising, and the resistance. “But I wasn’t responsible for the wars in the Middle East, why and how can I possibly help?” “But, I’m a vegan! I’m already doing my part..it’s all the other people who need to get on board.”
Stop it right there. Ego aside for a second, please. We live here. We affect the world around us. I think we need to accept that too. We are all in someway responsible for every single one of the earth’s ails in one way or another. If not directly, than indirectly.
I am no exception, and I’m certainly not a saint. I can’t say I started the war in the Middle East directly. But you know what I didn’t do to prevent it? I didn’t write a letter to my government when Canada decided to go to war. I didn’t protest more than once. I didn’t blog about it. I watched TV and just added negative energy to an already awful situation and felt powerless. And also, there was that one time someone was in a rage arguing that we NEED to be in the Middle East, and I just had too much of of all of it that I didn’t bother to muster up the energy to inform him that many of his views were based in false knowledge. I didn’t tell him there was a better way. I get ZERO brownie points for that – especially for someone who calls herself a peace practitioner.
But that’s a pretty big example. Let’s try something smaller. I don’t think I’m particularly responsible for climate change..but I am. Every time I drove my rusted old minivan given to me by my grandparents when I was younger, even though that exhaust was spewing garbage into the air, I was helping contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer. Every flight I fly on (and I fly quite a bit), I am contributing to the supply and demand of airlines and flights, and through the use of airplanes contributing to the same depletion of the ozone layer. Do you know how much gas it takes for an airplane to fly? How much of that has to be pumped out of the earth, polluting our oceans along the way, to be able to sustain this thing we often righteously call the necessities and privileges of human life?
And guess what? We all do this stuff without thinking about it. When one of us does it, it’s not such a big problem. When many of us do it, repeatedly, and unconsciously- well, then we have a need for Sustainable Development Goals, a massive world session of singing kumbaya, and a huge ocean and land clean up…and maybe some praying. Praying would probably help.
BUT, here’s the good news. Even though these goals and problems are absolutely massive, we can make our own lifestyle changes to move the sliding scale in another direction.
“The devil’s in the details.”
“It’s the little things.”
“One drop in the ocean can raise the tide.”
All these potentially cheesy quotes have some serious truth behind them. We can make a small, subtle difference, every day, that through the ripple effect, and amplified effort can drastically shift our world in the right direction…towards any one of these goals.
If tomorrow we all woke up, and mindfully ate our breakfasts, choosing which brand of cereal we eat – and don’t choose the one that uses slave labour; if we choose to recycle the cardboard box, and reuse the plastic bag within it; or better yet, if we get our cereal at a local organic, ethical, food store where the cereal comes directly from a dispenser and we put it into a reusable container, we skip the whole “trash” part of it altogether. If we all did this, what would happen to the cereal industry? To farming standards? To our landfills? Heck, what would happen to your body without all the toxins from generic cereal and to the amount of trash you have to take out weekly?
And your morning cereal is just one of the thousands of things you can choose to consciously think about on a daily basis. Just one! We have, literally, thousands of decisions to make throughout the day. Imagine what might happen to your life and to the world if we slowed down for a moment and were more mindful, and present to make those decisions.*
So, here’s my challenge to you, and to me, and anyone else either of us may talk to: take a moment to be mindful about your decisions today, even if just one. Contemplate your breakfast and it’s impact; or your choice in running shoe brand; or how full your trash can is and where that trash is going. And then, mindfully make a change. It can be small. But make it.
If we all tune in, act as mindfully as we can, imagine what a difference that can make.
In the mean time, I’m going to try to fly less, plant some trees, live with an open heart and mind, try to keep it minimal…and keep talking about this stuff, because to me, this world matters, and if I can make my small difference. I most definitely will.
I hope you’ll join me 🙂