Monday, March 24, 2008

Conscious Living Vs. Rule Based Living

One of the challenges of the green movement is to avoid being sanctimonious. It is an unavoidable part of being a human being, and it's likely to turn people off to the cause that faces us, as it does brings them home. A small action today caused me pause and my first thought was I just self-rationalizing or was my need legitimate. Today, I went to the gym after work and came out exhausted. Before returning to my desk, I stopped by the cafe to pick up a soda and I realized that I didn't have a cup with me, which is my daily practice when I get my 3 or 4 cups of coffee each day (sad but true, but it's pretty darn good coffee).

There were two options available to me, run upstairs and get my cup or use one of the styrofoam cups instead. I was pretty darn dehydrated and really wanted to get a drink. This is where I paused. I ended up grabbing a styrofoam cup since I knew I had to take off after work to somewhere else and wanted a drink for the drive. My cold cup in my cube wouldn't fit in my cup holder in my car. At this point was I rationalizing my decision. Partially.

Now zealots would have said that I wasn't walking the talk, that I'm a hypocrite. And they may be right. But I realized that being green isn't about denial, it's about choice, conscious choice. Most people are conditioned not to think about their actions to this level, but the green movement has focused me on these small things, and it has focused me on the big things as well. In college I avoided my problem sets by hanging out in the library (sort of ironic). As part of growing into myself, I spent some time reading about Zen Buddhism, and one of the tenets is to live consciously and in the moment. And that is really what the green movement is all about, living consciously. When this theme came back to me I did a quick web search and came to this quote at the website Zen Habits.

Living consciously is about taking control of your life, about thinking about your decisions rather than making them without thought, about having a life that we want rather than settling for the one that befalls us.

The effort to be green is simultaneously an act of great responsibility to be observant about the world around us and react, It's also a very selfish one because it's one where one does not settle. Blind rule following does not solve the problem, because our problems are going to change, but being cognizant of your actions is more important. I think this will be a theme, Barack Obama's speech on race, transcended the notion of rules and move us to understanding on that topic. Being green will also need to move beyond the actions of lightbulbs, composting and driving less to understanding the trade offs that define our lives, and start trading trade offs.

What other actions in my life cause me to pause, and why do I choose the actions that I do?


At 9:24 AM , Blogger arduous said...

I like this post a lot. It's so true. We're all going to slip up some times and use a styrofoam cup or order delivery and realize your favorite chinese place has switched to styrofoam etc. But it's about consciously making the decisions and not burying your head in the sand. That's what's important.


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