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Saturday, 30 May 2015

What Will You Do?

Whether it be about environment, poverty, social injustice, or another issue, one of the worst feelings at the end of many documentaries is this feeling of "now what?" Let me explain.

The term 'informed citizen' is a relatively common term. In school that was a term used a lot in the social science departments. I remember at least two first-day classes where the teachers asked something like "how many of you actually read the newspaper on a regular basis, and not just the comics?"

Some have pointed out how memes like this suggest
that people in third world countries never have these
'problems',  when that is not necessarily true. However, 
the purpose seems to be more to point out how small many
common inconveniences really are in an amusing way.
What the teacher was probably getting at was having a big-picture perspective. When we are an informed citizen and are aware of the bigger picture, it's easier to appreciate what we have and increased appreciation for what we do have and not take things for granted.

While that brings some personal benefit, reading about what happened in the news or seeing it in a documentary doesn't change the problem. When we are personally touched, empathizing and feeling for the issues we hear about, the best thing we can do is take action. Allowing both your mind and heart to be affected is what brings changes, even if small.

On a personal level, after a few years of involvement in school clubs and environmental education, I became a little disenchanted for a while with certain parts of the environmental movement. In both of those classes on the first day it was a bit of a rainy day and the cool, basement classroom with cracks in the walls still smelled like geography, but didn't feel like it any more, if that makes any sense. Everything seemed to become so technical, always a matter of measuring and predicting, budgeting and diplomacy. You can have all the facts and figures you want but if people don't care then what difference does it make?

Sometimes reading the comics can give you something that the article didn't.
I'll admit that this is laced with some remaining bitterness that I am fighting one step at a time (the same way we make any sort of progress), and it's is kind hard to express. The purpose is certainly not to diminish the value of keeping up with world events or having knowledge of people and cultures and things outside of our own bubble, because that is very important too. What I do mean to say is that head knowledge is not enough, but being moved to act is what will help.

Hearing a fire alarm is not enough. Knowing what the fire alarm means is not enough. It's getting out of the building or fighting the fire that gives you a chance. In the case of most humans and other living things caught in the midst of a global issue, a calm and orderly exit is not a viable option.  Despite the daunting  messes humanity finds itself in time and time again, there are still people who care and even if taking that small step can't save the world, it can still help make a difference in someone's life.

There is something amazing about the way children look at nature. The wonder of watching dandelion seeds drift away from your breath, seeing the wings of a dragonfly glint in the sunshine, hearing not only the call in a bird's voice but a song. That it powerful, motivating, and makes us happy. Science is generally associated with words like 'logic', 'left-brained' and 'facts', but that doesn't mean you have to ignore the part of you that loves nature from the heart in order to explore or save it.

Opening up to hope or anything else can be very hard. Making yourself vulnerable to disappointment and the judgement of others such as those who say 'be realistic' is hard; recovering from being someone who said 'be realistic' is hard, but even if the difference is small allowing yourself to hope and to give the benefit of the doubt to a perfect stranger can make you and them a better person.

Carry a better world inside of you and let it come out through your eyes and words and actions. See the world and see people for a positive potential and your eyes will be more beautiful. Base your actions on those ideals and you will have a more beautiful life. Potential isn't something that is already there, but seeing it means being willing to make yourself vulnerable and though it won't always work it still makes a difference.

As a kid once my mom and I went to the closing of a Laura Secord shop and they had a little Chicken Soup for the Soul book which contained a memorable story. Here is a variation of Loren Eisley's The Starfish Story:
     One windy morning a man was was taking a walk across a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish.
     Along the way he saw a boy stooping picking up starfish and throwing them back into the water to save them from the heat of the sun. 
     "There are thousands of starfish," the man said to the boy, "it won't make a difference."
     The boy picked up another starfish and threw it into the water and  said, "It made a difference to that one!"

We won't always save the world, but a big difference is made up of many small changes the same way a long journey is crosses with many small steps.

It is worth it.

After being informed of something through a newspaper article or thinking 'now what?' after a documentary, you don't have to go numb so as not to be overcome by anxiety. Worry less about what we can't do and focus about what we will do.

(p.s. If you're kind of feeling like that right now, here is a link to an older post with a collection of practical green tips. 
... Put together many steps will go a long way!)

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