In part a response to a comment Matt posted over here but also a distillation of my current thoughts about the way I spend my money.
I’ve thought a fair bit about the “big issues” of the world over the last year. We can see that things can be better and often how we might collectively get there with sufficient and coordinated “buy-in” but it’s that first hurdle that seems the hardest to get over.
We often feel defeated by the inertia of the status quo – that my small change will make no difference – but then I end up coming back to “the ocean is made up of drops” or, if you prefer Ghandi, “almost everything you do will seem insignificant, but it is important that you do it”.
Right now I have resolved that I can’t change the world but I can change myself so these days I try not to worry too much about whether my sacrifices are insignificant in the grand scheme of things and just focus in on each of my little purchasing decisions on whether there is a practical “path of greater love” that I can take rather that the obvious or conventional choice.
For example, not travelling anywhere ever is probably the “greenest” option (the “path of greatest love” perhaps) but assuming I find it unacceptable not to go on a foreign holiday, can I make decisions that are less harmful. I suspect that flying is probably damaging for the environment so if I can practically take a train then why not?
Or, I have enough clothes to keep me warm and dry but assuming I’m going to buy a new jumper can I buy fairtrade/organic or better yet second-hand from a charity shop. Being someone who doesn’t enjoy the thrill of the chase that some people get traipsing around charity shops, I’ve become a big fan this year of Oxfam’s online charity shop.
I suppose then it comes down to my definition of what is practical. For me it is practical to spend more time or more money on taking a less harmful path but I am relatively resource and opportunity rich. If you haven’t had to walk for a few hours to get water today then you are too.
Sure my sacrifices may make no difference but all we can do is try to do something rather than nothing and not feel too bad when we don’t even manage that much – “I do the things that I don’t want to do and I don’t do the things that I wish I would” – this is human.
If I can learn to see things as they really are, understand the me and the us and the interdependence of the two, hold on only lightly to my possessions and let go of my feelings of entitlement then perhaps the sacrifice won’t feel like a sacrifice at all. How can you feel the loss of something once you realise it was never yours at all?
I totally agree with Matt that communities and social capital are important and that through these things we find our motivation to change. For me I find that in understanding that I’m just another human, another brother in the brotherhood of man (if that’s not too cheesy) but one who has more than most, and being separated from the hurt and suffering only by the geography of my birth, my identification with the “global community” motivates me to change and to give. I feel quite inspired by the idea that I can show love to someone I’ll never meet by ensuring they were paid a living wage for whatever I’m buying half way round the world.
Do I really think we as humans will ever get over greed and our need to out-do each other? I don’t know. I know I’m part of the problem – a bigger part than most if we look at the global scale. I see that as a generation we have a crisis of telos at this time – as Western civilization or at least British middle-class society a lot of us are a bit miffed – we don’t know where we’re going or why. Whether it was World Wars to fight, the dream of a hippie utopia, the “American Dream”, the 80s boom that was going to make us all rich or the 90s boom that was somehow different from the one in the 80s and was going to make us all rich, previous generations have had a plan for a better world (and revolutions to back them up) that I’m not sure we have right now.
I suppose it’s because we’re at a point right now where we feel that the system is broken but we don’t know how to fix it – that the train has come to a halt and we’re not sure whether we’re supposed to wait for it to spring back into life or get off and find our own way or even if the destination was such a wonderful place after all (or even existed).
With the access pipes to information and world news that we all now have in our homes, we’re perhaps more aware than any previous generation of just how complex the system is. Perhaps it is the awareness of this complexity that is starting to bring many back to a vision for our immediate physical communities – to the small and local, the sharing of life, getting stuck into the nitty gritty, the down and dirty of our hurts, our baggage, our imperfection, letting go of the façade of togetherness. Perhaps the new dream is for us to understand our connectedness to the people we pass on the street and in our day-to-days and to the people we never meet who make our clothes and grow our food whose hardship currently pays for our luxury. To understand that their loss is our loss and that through investment in the lives of others we build a community (local and global) that makes us richer ourselves.
I still have a long way to go. I’ve come to believe that ideals always make hypocrites of those of us that try to have some but I think it’s still important to try because our principles inform our journey by giving us an idea of where we’re trying to go what our destination might look like.