Holding the Green Tongue
This holiday season, many of us will travel outside our eco-comfort zones - far away from recycling routines and compost bins - to households, cultures and regions where green habits do not exist. And there, our heads will explode - some quietly and some not.
It's a fine line to walk, caring without being overbearing; when you feel strongly about something you want others to feel it too. But one (meaning me) must take care and note the difference between sharing that knowledge and trying to spark new habits without becoming obnoxious and harpy. I live in Colorado, where green-mindedness is the norm, and my Christmas holidays are spent with my family in Mississippi, where green-mindedness is, um, not.
Just now, typing this, I turned to my father and asked if his apartment building had recycling. "What do you mean by 'recycling'?"
After some thought, he realized that they do but that it was picked up by a private firm and not the city. When I asked him if he recycled, he huffed. "No!" He then went on to explain that he "didn't have room for another bin." This hurts to hear, more than I say, but I remain quiet - which also hurts. Why?
Because in years past, I was too shrill on political and environmental issues and instead of inspiring my loved ones, I put them off. As a result, they tuned me out, a distance was created and my messages died. (I can only hope they decayed and composted into healthy soil.)
The urgency I feel about environmental issues is more intense than it was then but I have to step back, regroup and consider my communication strategy. Short of forcing my tribe to sit down for a Powerpoint presentation or a 'Story of Stuff' video, I'm not sure how to effectively make my point. Solving this puzzle is, in fact, one of my goals for 2012.
Recently, I got into a heated debate with a friend on this very issue. She's politically involved and sends out lots of urgent emails, including some pointed ones to individuals asking for an explanation about why they feel a certain way about an issue. She's "trying to understand" but it's borderline rude.
Well, she stepped over that line last week after sending out a group email admonishing those who "did nothing" about issue X, saying that we should be ashamed of ourselves. While the issue at hand was indeed important, I was enraged at her, and not the politicians. I let her know this method was ineffective and she responded, "Well, I've been trying to politely inform people for 30 years and that hasn't worked either."
I can feel her frustration but shaming people and barraging them with statistics doesn't work that well. I have done it myself and have seen many a glazed eyeball. Also, it makes them feel judged, which is just plain crappy.
Fact is, people don't want to change their habits. They don't want to hear that some of the world's biggest problems can be traced to their own behavior. (Personally, I believe this is what is behind resistance to global warming.) And unless you are a possession-less monk living in a cave, eating nuts and berries, you're likely contributing to the overall global problem of waste and pollution. Green guilt? I've got bin-fuls.
For example, I'm a fanatic about recycling and composting but I also drive a 4WD Ford truck. I love a good wood-burning fireplace and frequently travel by airplane. Sometimes, I can't avoid a plastic purchase in the grocery store and I occasionally use paper towels. Plus, I'm a fan of tech gadgets, which is another post entirely…..
Despite my own sins, I still get upset about waste. Not annoyed, not bothered, UPSET. It causes me great anxiety and I have been known to pull things out of other people's trash for recycling. As a kid, I recall worrying about if there was going to be room for everything, especially trash, and feeling very alone with those fears. So when staying in the houses of others, I try not to openly wail and whimper every time I throw a banana peel or aluminum can in the trash bin. Honestly, it's intensely uncomfortable.
Just last week, I attempted to plead my case in my very own house. Although I literally saw red upon finding four recyclable items in the trash bin, I took a few days to let the rage subside. Then, attempted to explain to my housemate that stuff like this is important to me - especially in my own household - and could they please try harder? I think it went well but time will tell if it made a difference. And who knows? Next time, I might just explode into nonsensical rant and make a bigger mess of everything.
Naturally, I'm the subject of some ridicule among family and friends for using things completely up, right to the bitter end, like I grew up in the Depression or something. Maybe it's due to my frugal upbringing. Sure, my youth was spent frolicking around Southern California but I am the daughter of Dakotans (North and South), from that hearty Scotch-Irish stock. Just one scoop left of the casserole? It goes in the tupperware. Old t-shirt? Keep it as a rag. Used notepad? I'll use the back sides too, thanks.
In my mind, to thoughtlessly create waste is to be wildly ungrateful for, among other things, your entire world. Having said that, my loved ones aren't always going to be around. My parents, both in their upper 70s, have begun to slow and I want our remaining years together to be peaceful and without strife. My rage is still aflame but I need to find a way to harness it into a focused laser beam instead of letting it run wild like a destructive forest fire. So the question is, how to enlighten others without pissing them off?
I've turned to other methods. For example, I generally travel in my favorite t-shirt, a purple one (supposedly made from recycled plastic bottles) bearing a large pitchfork with the words: "GROW YOUR OWN FOOD." Besides being mouthy, I'm also a chesty motherfucker so, my thinking goes, why not use my boobalicious billboard for good? Walking down the airplane aisle, people are going to stare anyway so why not toss a message in there?
Thankfully, I've made some progress. I recall my mother eye-rolling when I asked her to think about recycling. Now, she's a fellow fanatic. Every time I visit, I leave behind canvas shopping bags and bought one for her to keep in her purse. I think she might even be using them. Bit by bit, I see the consciousness rising to reality and I'm anxious to accelerate it, I just don't think I should be an asshole about it.
Any suggestions? I'm open to ideas. Because if there's one thing I know, I can't do this alone.
BlogHer Section Editor, LIFE & GREEN; Contributing Editor, Animal & Wildlife Concerns; Proprietor, ClizBiz