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Some version of these statements, and so many others, have been verbalized to me on countless occasions by a variety of individuals:
>> “Why do you hang up so much of your laundry? Isn’t it a pain? Do you really think that you not using your dryer is going to make any difference?”
>> Do you have water bottles we can take? Don’t you get tired of washing your reusables?
>> “You know, even if you get the plastic bags from the grocery store, you can always find another use for them.”
>> “You won’t shop at that store because of what they believe in, stand for, or support? But they have such nice stuff, good food, and great values! You know you won’t impact their earnings!”
>> “Why don’t you just use weed killer instead of vinegar? It’s more effective and works much faster. Besides, you wouldn’t be using that much, and I don’t think it’s that dangerous or we wouldn’t be allowed to use it. If everyone else is, you not using it isn’t going to make a difference.”
>> “Why don’t you just drive to the store? It would be so much faster. You’re just one person—you riding a bike isn’t going to help with pollution or fuel consumption.”
>> “You actually try and get your family to eat vegetarian meals? Mine never would.”
>> “You don’t have paper plates we can just use for the barbeque? It’s just once in a while. And, besides, they can be recycled, can’t they?”
“We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we cannot foresee.” ~ Marian Wright Edelman
Some commenters share wildly differing world views, others that have far more in common with me than not.
And I am always left wondering why? Why is it that I feel as if I am regularly tasked with defending and explaining my choices? Why am I so annoyed when my explanations are countered with, “Well, you’re only one person, so you’re not really making a difference.”
Why aren’t more people taking small steps to make a big difference? When did a little inconvenience (if any) become a justification for turning a blind eye to the damage we continue to perpetuate on Earth and all its creatures? And why is it okay to keep doing it just because it’s easy or convenient?
So, after explaining to them the why of my personal choices, my question to them is then, “Well, what if you joined me? Now we’re two. And what if you told others and got one or two to join us, and now we’re four or five. What if the telling and joining snowballed and all of a sudden we’re dozens, hundreds, thousands. Would we then make a difference?”
And, equally as important, what if we voted for those who see a future for all of us, not just the wealthy, influential, lobbyists, and holdouts in denial?
But the thing is, even if it’s just me, even if you don’t join me and you don’t tell any friends, and I have to keep explaining and defending, even then, I will continue. I will continue to hang my clothes, use vinegar or my hands to pull weeds, ride my bike to the store, not buy paper plates, eat less meat, not patronize public establishments whose missions are greatly misaligned with my personal values—along with many other, little, seemingly inconsequential actions that, to you, may seem pointless, require too much time and energy, and will never make a difference.
However, we will just have to agree to disagree (until I can change your mind). Because I know it does make a difference.
First and foremost is the difference it makes in, and for, me. When I decided to never again give another dollar to that store because of my strong disagreement with its owners’ beliefs, I felt pride in standing up for what I believe in and have never looked back. Do they miss me? It seems unlikely.
When I explained to my children, so many years ago, that we would not again be visiting the drive-thru of that restaurant, they expressed some mild disappointment but were thankfully old enough to understand the importance and value of standing up for what you believe in. Has that fast-food restaurant wondered where we (and our money) went? Definitely not. Have we missed them? Not even once.
Do the companies that make plant poison, water bottles, and unnecessary paper goods miss me and my purchases? Me, alone? No.
But would they miss me and you and you and you? And them? And others? Yeah, I think they would.
Secondly, through my best efforts, I am attempting to teach my two amazing sons to be stewards of this earth. Not only for them but for future generations. I am showing them that little, really effortless gestures can make a difference. I am teaching them to look beyond themselves and their convenience and see the bigger picture. I am attempting to instill in them the knowledge and truth that this earth does not belong to them—they just get to live here for a little while, and that we must leave it, in good condition, for those yet to come.
“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” ~ William James
So, do I continue to talk and listen and explain and share in an attempt to encourage people to see that maybe, just maybe, they can choose even one or two small gestures of gifts to Earth, her inhabitants, and their future? Of course. I do, and I will continue to do so. Even when ridiculed, even when laughed at, even when you roll your eyes at me.
And, while I say that it doesn’t matter what you think of me and my choices, it actually does. Because if you laugh, if you roll your eyes, if you sneer, then I know we have a long way to go to bridge the gap between our beliefs. But, I’m in it for the long haul.
But most importantly, my choices—whether making huge differences or imperceptible differences—matter to me. I can look at (most) of my purchasing choices and, while there is always room for improvement, I know I am aware and always thinking and learning and wanting to do better. I don’t have to squash the guilt I would otherwise feel by supporting a business I fundamentally disagree with. I am open to suggestions, want to do more, read, and listen. Can I continue to improve? Oh my goodness, yes. A hundred times over, yes.
What I attempt to do is not allow myself to get overwhelmed, dispirited, or helpless. I am not always successful because it often does feel hopeless. I do what I can do right now, and will continue to work toward more. I try to teach my children the “what” and “why” of my beliefs: the reasoning and emotion behind my decisions, and the importance of believing in something bigger than yourself. And having a desire, no, a need, to leave your mark on this world before you leave it.
And here’s the thing—this world will be here long after you and I are gone. She was a temporary gift, on loan, that we have most definitely not valued, loved, or appreciated as we should have. We’ve used and abused for our own gain, all the while in denial of the long-lasting effect of our actions, or lack thereof.
My children, their children, their grandchildren, and so on, will be here long after you and I are gone. We simply can no longer think of just the “us” and “now.” How can we be unwilling to make sacrifices (that could have been, many decades ago, “small”) for Earth’s future? And now the demand is greater because we weren’t willing when it was easier.
Our greed and selfishness have set us on a path to destroying our home. We did it for the “here and now,” for the wealth, for the convenience, and for the ease of life. But now we have stolen that from future generations.
But hey, we won’t be here, so who cares?
I do. And so should you.