A troubling part of a conversation with a friend was her statement, “I’m not you.”
David Wallace warned in The Uninhabitable Earth, if we don’t act now, we’ll be caught in a never ending cycle of disasters. The latest IPCC report says the same.
Many have warned that fascism increases as we fight over resources and blame others for our troubles.
Secretary General of the UN Antonio Gutirerrez tweeted, ‘Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels. Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.’
Climate Scientist Peter Kalmus just tweeted minutes ago, ‘It is surreal and horrifying that we know they are irreversibly destroying the planet but our governments continue expanding fossil fuels anyway while the media looks on.’
We are being told, on many fronts, that we must act now or face extinction.
Let me explain the conversation I had with my friend. I’ve had it on my mind for several weeks now this interaction with a childhood friend who still lives on the east coast. We had had a nice conversation about life, what we are up to and what our children are doing. She mentioned that she was taking the family on a vacation to Arizona for spring break. Me, being me, said that with all the talk of equity, it’s really not fair to be taking vacations to the Grand Canyon when the world is suffering and danger is clear. She countered that she tries to be very climate friendly and that for the sake of her family she needed to do this. Finally, she added, ‘because I want to.’
When I got off the phone I was feeling troubled. When I balance my personal unease at confronting a friend with the alternative of the keeping silent and simply watching the breakdown of planetary systems if we don’t change our minds and way of life now, the planet wins out. I must speak up.
I texted her, ‘I think it’s way too late for the balance that you are looking at. Who exactly are you balancing with? 10 percent of the world’s population have caused 80 percent of the emissions. You are teaching your kids to be entitled if you say, “because I want to.”’
I followed with ‘You know I love you.’ because I do. She’s a wonderful person and one of my oldest friends.
I was done with the conversation. Then, a few days later, I got the letter.
Here’s what she had to say;
I have not spoken with her since, not because I’m angry, I just don’t know what to say.
Does an anti-racist agree to disagree on racist behavior? Do they ignore systemic racism?
How can I not judge, when so much is at stake?
Do I stay silent much of the time to be diplomatic? More than many would know.
Do I feel f*cked all the time? No- I’m grieving but I’m not depressed. I am sad mostly at the inaction of those around me. I’m frustrated that we’ve gone down the neo-liberal road and that heartless corporations have so much control.
To quote Peter Kalmus again, ‘I want to make something clear: If I didn’t have hope- lots of it- I couldn’t be fighting this hard. We need all hands on deck pushing for deep social transformation with a diversity of tactics and taking risks. This transformation might come fast when it comes. I hope it does.’
I believe in active hope. But it’s hard to keep it when people use the word ‘baby steps’ when the house is on fire.
When someone mentions ‘life balance’ I think of Seeing with New Eyes and The Work that Reconnects. I think of the village in Kenya I visited with my Kenyan friend, how I was able to witness members of her village living full lives on few resources and showing kindness to strangers. These thoughts help me work out my ‘life balance.’
I garden. I read. I am learning all the time. I nurture relationships with like minded people and maintain old friendships as well. My life is full.
I don’t dwell on impending disaster. I dwell on the solutions. I dwell on bringing friends and family along. I delight in seeing changes in their thinking. I delight in watching tomato seeds grow and thrive. I enjoy leading volunteer groups as a forest steward. I don’t need much to be happy. I am grateful for what I have. I’m not angry.
I did not say that flying was ‘incomprehensible.’ I said it was entitled to go on a vacation to the Grand Canyon when we are in a planetary emergency. We have so much in this country — in our own back yard.
I used to fly back to New York to visit family twice a year. But now I understand the direness of our situation. Now I see it as morally wrong to keep up old behaviors when I know they cause harm. Am I a vegan? Not quite but pretty close. And I try to be as calmly persuasive as possible to move people in the direction of eating less meat. These are just two small, concrete examples of change.
I have tried to express to my friend that it is somewhat her choice to be stressed — over say, her son getting into MIT or having to go to a back up school or whether her children have the ideal high school experience. It is obvious that we are living a society where the few are benefiting while the many suffer. I find peace in worrying less about myself and more about others.
To quote Yoda, ‘do or do not. There is no try.’ and ‘you must unlearn what you have learned.’ We need to heed Yoda’s words. I have not asked my friend to read everything I write. I have not asked her to read everything I recommend. I understand people are busy. I did ask her to read one thing I’ve written. Just one — and the choice was up to her. She is a good friend, one of my oldest.
The line in her letter, ‘I am not you’ really bothered me. I am learning more about the climate and ecological crisis every day and taking and sharing advice from people I respect. Does that make me Joanna Macy or Chris Johnstone? Does that make me Paul Hawken? Peter Kalmus? Charles Eisenstein? Thich Nhat Hanh?
I’m still me — someone not looking away from planetary devastation.
I had gotten Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet from the library but had to return it before I had finished reading it. So, I decided to buy a copy because it is one of those rare books that I knew I’d re-read and want to have at hand. I bought one for myself and sent one to my friend, texting her, ‘I sent you a book. You are, of course, under no obligation to read it. But I found it calming an inspiring. I can’t say I understand everything he says, but I appreciate the sentiment and read just a little every morning.’
Then I started re-reading the book from the beginning. I was truly startled when I got to page 18 and read, ‘We’re born with this strong belief that we’re separate: ‘I am not you. That’s your problem; its not my problem.’
I highly recommend reading the book, but to oversimplify here, all life on earth is connected, and moving beyond the notion of the separate self will help us cope with the very different life that lies ahead.
Feel free to be me. I’ll be you — with empathy and compassion for the community of life on earth.
This post was previously published on Age of Awareness.
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