I did not do the walk for a couple of silly and cowardly reasons. First, I am 57. Often, when I show up for community events like this, I am the oldest person by 20-30 years (GO Pittsburgh young people!). I imagine the other participants thinking wtf is this old lady doing here. And yes, I could have invited a friend. My second reason is not unrelated to my first - I was a little afraid that I would not be able to complete the walk and that I would thus end up feeling embarrassed - an ego-driven excuse if I ever heard one!
What I did instead, the following day, was to do a car-less Sunday. This meant that I walked to the grocery, the East-End Co-op, and carried my groceries home - about 3 miles round trip. I realize that this exercise was probably trivial, and had no impact beyond my momentary thinking about convenience, privilege, inequities and injustice, and cars (which, by the way, were abundant along my walk, blasting a glorious melange of jazz, gospel, hip-hop, and pop music out their windows) - but I did it anyway and don't regret having done it.
Sometimes it just seems like the local and global problems related to social injustice, pollution, climate change, overconsumption, and poverty are just so very big and overwhelming. Sometimes I feel so angry that I could explode when I read about the new Pennsylvania rule that coal company and other corporate executives (who clearly have vested interests) have to/get to review and sign off on regulations related to natural gas drilling (fox in the hen house???) when safe water and human health are at stake. Sometimes I wonder why the heck I think about this stuff and write about it when my efforts will be just a teeny-tiny blip on the screen. Sometimes I wish I could not be aware and interested, and could stick my head back in the sand. Most of the time, I realize that, in spite of my small efforts, I am still not walking the talk as much as I could.
What does this mean? Do these realities mean that we give up? Or that we give everything away and devote ourselves exclusively to work that tries to right wrongs? Have you ever wondered about these things?
Last Wednesday night, Juliette Jones, one of the founders of the Hazelwood Food Forest, came to speak to my class on Psychologists in Organizations and Communities. Juliette is young, creative, energetic, and hard-working. I listened to her and wondered about how it must feel to be undertaking such meaningful work at her young age and about what childhood experiences had given her the wisdom to take this path. Then she mentioned that she had not come to her interest in gardening and sustainability until after college, a mere few years ago.
We are who we are, learning and growing and teaching from our unique place in the universe. How can we go wrong with wanting to move forward from where we are, even if we take small steps? What is the alternative? What would happen if lots of people who felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of the tasks before us still determined to take those small steps, together? Again, what is the alternative?
In coming posts, we will look at what we know about how people change, about the roots of altruism, about the costs of denial. I welcome your thoughts.