Hello and welcome to this glorious Friday, July 31, 2020! Today is a rare and precious day that will never come again. Can you enjoy what you do enough that would inspire others to join you?
I believe in my heart that we all care about the environment. On some level, I am convinced that no one wants to intentionally destroy the very planet that sustains us. But what of the ongoing environmental destruction, exploitation, and the apparent blatant disregard for the call to action? Considering the ongoing challenges, the seeming indifference, apathy, negligence, and complacency, how do you sustain your role as an activist, and, at the same time, your sanity?
There was a time in my Environmental Ethics graduate studies when I became pathetically angry over the state of the world – melting glaciers, bleaching coral, rising seas, forced labor, global hunger, systemic poverty, plastic, genetic modification, fear mongering, racism. I could go on. My point is: everywhere I looked, I found problems. Problems that seemed solvable. I was on fire and was ready to fight for what I believed in – peace, equity, sustainability. The fire, the anger, the condemnation, the criticism, and the desire to control and manipulate a failing world back into a state of harmony nearly destroyed me. The fight, it beat me.
Most of us can only fight for so long before we become bodily, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually exhausted. Fortunately, I discovered a different way, a way to effect change through inner sustainability and resilience.
To cultivate inner resilience, we must first stop fighting, struggling, manipulating, and controlling. This in no way suggests that we give up on our quest for environmental reform. It simply suggests that we must get honest about what we can and cannot control.
I drive school buses meow and then. Driving a twenty-five-thousand-pound, forty-foot-long yellow vehicle on roads made for a Prius is one thing, doing it with eighty-four children hyped up on Twinkies, Sour Patch Kids, Flaming Hot Cheetos, and Coke is another. One does not control this situation. One does not give up either. Letting restless children do as they please on a bus is dangerously unsafe. Though it doesn’t work with all students, a skillful driver can transport well-behaved children safely to and from their destinations with little to no dominating control.
When I first started driving, I made the same mistakes with my students as I did with the “anti-environmentalists” who I was trying to educate and convince to change their unsustainable ways. Educating comes from a place of superiority, “I know something, and you need to learn.” It’s been my experience that educating only works if the student is willing. If one’s view is opposed, most are not willing to be taught, or, from their estimation, talked down to. Kids are not dumb. I may get the desired goal from my bus students by punitively threatening them, but how much do they enjoy the bus experience? How much will they respect me? When I try to control like this, I watch children exit the bus resentful, with their heads hung low. When I call to mind my inner child and remember who inspired me, I recall people who treated me with respect for who I was (an unruly hyperactive mess) and who were a joy to be around. Collaboration as equals, I have found, is pleasantly sustainable and is effective in meeting goals.
Someone who is wise and understands people can inspire even the most skeptical to act in ways that produce desirable results. And most important, enjoy the process.
Here, Tom Sawyer and the fence scene comes to mind. As punishment for prior mischief, Aunt Polly instructs Tom to whitewash the fence. Being quick and witty, Tom shows his friends what a great time he is having painting the fence. So much so that everyone wants to join. Tom makes it look so incredibly enjoyable that some of the onlookers even pay him to let them paint the fence. Did Tom bamboozle them? Maybe. But did the job get done? Did the people enjoy themselves? Isn’t that what really matters – what we are all looking for – enjoying what we do? If we can show up joyfully to our tasks in ways that we feel good about, it’s attractive to others. It is effortless and it inspires and motivates people to follow our lead. In essence, they want what we have – genuine happiness.
One of Alcoholics Anonymous’ traditions suggests that they are a “program of attraction rather than promotion.” Can you imagine how you would feel if you were desperate to stop drinking and walked into an AA meeting only to find everyone miserable in their sobriety? That scenario is about as attractive as an activist holding a peace sign all the while screaming righteously in the face of their opposition. We must embody the qualities we want to see in the world.
Whatever our ambition, whatever we are trying to accomplish, we must demonstrate through our own actions that it reduces suffering (better yet, enjoyable), is attainable and in no way comes from a position of superiority. Collaboration. Not control.
Inner resilience and sustainability are born out of a peaceful and contented state of being. Peace and contentment are born out of the Mindfulness qualities of attention, wisdom, and compassion. Not everything happening around the world today is destructive and oppressive. In reality, there are so many more healthy, useful and beneficial things happening than those that are negative and destructive. When we are attentive, we recognize that the news is biased, and researchers seldom apply for grants to explore what’s working in the world. Look around. When we fully realize how we are inextricably dependent upon the efforts of others for our very own well-being and survival, we stop regarding those “certain people” as adversaries and recognize them as inseparable equals. When we develop the wisdom to admit that we have little to no control over things outside of us, we are living in reality. When we live in reality, we stop suffering. When we compassionately understand that, just like us, everyone is doing the best they can to find happiness and avoid suffering, everyone has known sadness, despair and loss, is doing the best they can to get their needs met, and is trying to learn how to live, we begin recognize the fact that we really are all more similar than we are different. Our differences, it would seem, are by degrees only.
If we approach others exhausted and overworked, asking them to join us on our quest for environmental reform, to most that would look like too much work. If, however, we can live a blindingly attractive life that meets the conditions that we are asking of others, no effort or control will be needed for their recruitment, they may even pay you join. Just ask Tom Sawyer.
“Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.” – Mark Twain.
I love you, and there is nothing that you can do about it!
Enjoying some inner resilience,
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