The Season of Choices

It occurred to me in a restless hour of insomnia that most sins boil down to greed. The many ills we see plaguing our world are borne out of want – a hunger for that which we do not have, but wish to possess, whether it be money, power, material items, reputation, or other humans. Before I step up on a soap box, mount my high horse, or puff up my chest to expound, I turn a critical lens on my own life.

I’ve written before about my own sense of hunger and want. But growing up poor cannot be an excuse for greed and as we go through another consumer season, I am at once chagrined and baffled by the amount of stuff in exchange. My husband is an IT engineer for a large retailer. I am often compulsive in my shopping. I do not look at this from high moral ground. Complicity is not just for politics.

There are times when we, as individuals, get mocked for our minuscule efforts to save the world. Recycling every scrap of paper and tin can, only to see large scale pollution and waste by corporate entities. Buying different light bulbs every five years, because supposedly, the latest ones take less energy and last longer, only to discover that the expensive damned things burn out just as quickly as the old ones. Being “green” becomes its own source of want and consumerism.

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If something is small, it might be said, it may not be worth doing. It may just be a way to distract individuals from seeing the large-scale destruction and greed that so many of us benefit from in the short-term, but that consumes and kills everything in its path. Why should we spend our short time on this earth trying to be better, when the bigger picture says that ultimately, we will consume ourselves out of existence?

canstockphoto34294378It’s no coincidence that I write this post on the heels of visiting a mall. At least once a year, my daughter’s orchestra performs in the middle of a mall. Malls baffle and horrify me. Seeing an entire store devoted to pillows (and only one brand at that) or socks is a special kind of bizarre. Walking past store windows, it was hard to gauge what was even being sold, beyond contorted mannequins and maybe a purse.

We walked around the mall and I couldn’t make myself go into a store, knowing that I’d immediately become every old lady ever. Why would someone pay for THAT? Why are there holes in brand new jeans? I could get an entire wardrobe at Target for the price of that shirt. And that shirt is made in the same damn place – Cambodia or Thailand or Pakistan. I wonder what deft little fingers make our clothes and if the building might not collapse on them. Complicit.

canstockphoto33759.jpgI’ve read of people who attempt to be purists. They are inevitably wealthy and can afford to source all their clothing from sheep who live in their own personal spas. They buy $200 light bulbs made out of recycled feces and have 4,000 square feet of solar panels for their tiny house on wheels. Perhaps we mock them out of jealousy – they get to attain a little higher moral ground. But wait – where did their wealth come from? Did they sell more stuff, inherit hoarded monies, engage in unfair business practices, benefit from a system that rewards greed? Complicit.

If we are all guilty and if what we do as individuals in our own households has little effect, why do we torture ourselves trying to be better? Why not admit that we’re bipedal locusts and get on with things without guilt?

This brings me to a different type of greed. I want to be a better person than I am. I want to be respectful of the earth and thoughtful about what I choose to possess. I want to leave something of natural beauty to those who follow behind me. But mostly, I want to define my life not through constant desire and greed, but through kindness and respect and an ability to sit with what I have and be at peace.

canstockphoto16214070Greed inculcates violence. Whether it be taking something by force or getting something at the expense of others or the planet, it is an inherently violent trait. We see what kind of people use greed as their defining trait – from corrupt politicians who seek power and financial gain, to narcissistic fundamentalists of any ilk who seek to make the world in their image alone – greed for a mirror’s reflection. These people poison everything around them. Many of them have poor relationships with other humans, are detached from the true wonder and beauty of the natural world, and spend their considerable talent in pursuit of more for themselves, instead of bettering the world around them.

I don’t have the luxury or the grandiosity of those extremes, but I can see how greed and want and consumerism can be damaging to those around me, to the natural world, to my own character, to the way I spend my very short life. I’m over the halfway point at best. I’ve spent 50 years on this planet trying to earn more money, to have more freedom and choices through that money. I’ve been generous with friends and family and charities. But I’ve exchanged one sort of freedom for another. I’m more complicit than I want to be in the destruction of this planet.

So the question is, how hard do I want to try? This choice, this evaluation, is a luxury in itself. If you’re just getting by, you don’t spend a lot of time sourcing where your stuff comes from. You don’t weigh getting the $2 versus the $8 light bulb. But here I am, with the choices I’ve worked my whole life to have, in a system that rewards me for making greedy choices. It doesn’t let me off the hook to say it won’t make a difference. If I have the power and luxury of choices, I’m responsible for making better ones, even if they may not save the world.

36 Comments on “The Season of Choices

  1. I enjoyed this post–well done. I think it’s a struggle because it’s so easy to get caught up in the “but this matters so little compared to that…” One piece of plastic, one tin can versus, say, a corporation dumping poison next to a river that feeds crops. A losing battle, right?

    And yet…

    I think it may be our “duty” (and I use that word a bit loosely) to do what we can. One piece of plastic may not make a difference–that we can see–but I do believe that consequences of our choices happen whether or not we’re there to witness them.

    One piece of plastic? A speck. A hundred pieces of plastic? A bigger speck. A thousand people recycling a hundred pieces of plastic? The returns grow exponentially.

    I, too, struggle with being better than I am now. You are right–there is ALWAYS room to grow. Sometimes one choice seems so small compared to what’s before us.

    And yet…

    I’d much rather have a poor hand played well than a great hand played poorly.

    I think that’s the best we can do–play the hand we’ve been dealt as well as we can, because there are always consequences.

    Liked by 5 people

    • I think there is something that gets missed when we talk about one small action, too. The sense of connection between us and the rest of the world. That detachment (and not in the Buddhist sense) has caused us no end of problems. So our small actions can speak to reconnecting us to community and a sense of responsibility to others, even if it doesn’t solve the problem entirely.

      Liked by 5 people

      • I couldn’t quite find the bridge between where I started and your comment, but I agree 100%. Thank you for saying what I couldn’t quite formulate.

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        • I laughed when I read your comment. I often wonder if I’m “listening” well enough when I respond to people, because every comment sends my brain off in a thousand different directions. I think your point was that one action, in aggregate, can make a big difference.
          My concern is always that if we rely on outcomes we can’t immediately see the benefits of, we’re less inclined to do something. Humans, right? So I also try to look at how it impacts a person internally in their immediate time and space. Beyond saving the planet, by our small actions we strengthen our connections to something bigger, which changes how we make choices in the first place.
          Thanks so much for sharing your perspective – it really adds to the conversation!

          Liked by 2 people

  2. I do think it’s important to do whatever we can to make the world at large a better place, no matter how small our contribution — even if it does feel like an exercise in futility when you consider the destruction caused by big corporations and greedy, corrupt politicians. In an indirect way, I think it contributes to making our own “personal” world a better place as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Michelle, I enjoyed reading your post and your readers’ replies. I just started a blog idea today to encourage people to take part in a movement that says ‘no to greed’ and our greed culture. It would be great to have you and your readers join and maybe together we could begin to sow the seeds of change. Greed has just taken over and it’s ruining our world. Details are here https://lifeb4profit.wordpress.com Many thanks for taking a look and spreading the word if you feel like it. Stephen

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    • I think greed has always been part of the human makeup, but because of population growth, it has grown exponentially, along with the forces that benefit from greed (typically the uber-wealthy). Those forces are amplifying their message and dominating cultures. I like the idea of one person at a time, turning the tide. It empowers us against forces much bigger than us.
      Thanks for sharing your blog link and I wish you the best in your blogging venture!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Michelle, feel free to add your website to the directory and display the logo. That’s how we’ll spread the message and change things one person at a time! Take care

        Liked by 1 person

  4. You are right Michelle. It’s a privilege to be in a place where we can choose because we are not struggling just to eat and pay the bills, so we should make the best choices we can. And it all starts with awareness, which these days is a choice too because there are so many opportunities to inform ourselves of what is going on in the larger world and how we can personally change to mitigate the damage we are doing. Sadly, as you indicated, there are people who would rather ignore the obvious because of the inconvenience of truth, which might be an over used phrase, but it certainly is an apt one. Thanks for sharing your own personal experience with this. As always, your thoughts are well organized, enlightening, timely…and honest, which is most refreshing.

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    • Thanks, Ilona. Sometimes all the information can be overwhelming. You just get the sense that no matter what we do, we’re doomed, because most of us have so little power. But like voting, we have to exercise what little power we do have – which is to say the choice to do with less, pay attention to who is making our stuff, and think about what happens to it after we’re done with it. The constant awareness is exhausting, but often much less so if we take even a few small steps in the right direction.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The older I get the more I deserve the label Mother Grundy. I moan about the wastage, the unnecessary buying of too many presents just because it is Christmas, the cards given to people we see every day – someone cut down a tree to make that and it will be thrown away in a couple of weeks – and so on and so on. Moderation yet but on the media they encourage excess. So sad.

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  6. You made me laugh AND think (damn, you, woman!). I’ve tried to find my own way to spit in the wind (so to speak). Once I realized how much I’d have to use air conditioning here in Oklahoma, I started recycling diligently. I know it’s not even close to zero sum, but it’s *something*.

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    • I know that whenever I start pointing fingers at someone else (grumbling about consumerism), it’s time to look at myself and my behaviors. I need to up my environmental game quite a bit. Learning new habits sucks, but thinking about some dolphin choking on plastic sucks even more. Something counts, Sandy, so bravo for you!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Michelle,

    To solve your problem with greed, get older. There comes a point when the closets are full, the shelves crammed, often with broken stuff or things that have outlived usefulness, you can’t find empty surfaces to put anything down on, and your hands are full. That’s when you shift quite naturally from the acquisition to the dispersal mode. But even that has pitfalls, because stuff likes having a home and resists every effort to get rid of it. The Salvation Army rejected a box of odds and ends (perfectly good stuff) I tried to give away the other day.

    Someone like me can go to a store and be unable to find anything I need or want. The things I have are good enough, and I’m a master of creative re-purposing. It is an achievement when I can create empty space in my personal world. But, as they say, nature abhors a vacuum. It’s uncanny how stuff rushes to fill the void. That may not be greed. It’s cosmic design.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Because I’ve always lived in relatively small spaces and I have a compulsive need to be organized, I get rid of things with aplomb. I can’t shop at the local thrift store because it looks like a garage sale from my house. So having things is not the problem for me – the habit of acquisition and dispersal is. It gives the illusion of being thoughtful, but only because one cannot see the stream of things entering and leaving the house. That’s where I need work – stop bringing things in the door in the first place.

      And I absolutely understand that nature and human abhors a vacuum. This is why I’ve been so resistant to my husband’s desire for a shed. We’d just fill it with shit and it would be another place I’d have to organize.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Michelle,
        Agreed that the key is not to bring things home in the first place. The way to do that is not to enter the stores.

        Unfortunately, I have an addiction to print media, my main weakness. At least the bookshelves are full to overflowing, so I’m space-limited. I have this plan to read what’s on my own shelves—much passed on from family–so it’s like a treasure hunt and costs nothing.

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