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Lions Roar : January 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2009 49 In any given problem-solving arena, the question will arise: What is effective action? This is another way of asking: What can I actually do? How can I be effective, given who and what I know now? How can my work have some impact? These are important questions that should always be kept nearby in evaluating your potential to contribute, which, of course, is constantly changing. The newcomer to any environmental topic has a thousand ideas of “what people should do” to “save the environment.” The good news is that most of these ideas are already in progress some- where. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel; you just need to find people who are already acting on your good ideas and join them. Chances are that they will already have assessed the op- tions for effective action and will have developed initiatives that fit the current situation. People with more knowledge and expe- rience, whether they are with the Sierra Club or the Department of Environmental Conservation or the local recycling center, have already given these matters quite a bit of thought. The most important aspect in the early stages of the green prac- tice path is to find what is personally satisfying and meaningful. Without this, you won’t continue the work. It is also crucial to make some friends in the process. Without friends, you will feel isolated and lonely and the work won’t be as much fun. People don’t usually think of environmental practice as “fun,” but if you are spending time with good people and sharing a sense of pur- pose you are having a good time helping to create a more sustain- able world. Whether you take up this work in your family setting or as a volunteer, in school or downtown, it is all useful. It is all part of the process of shifting the social paradigm toward active care for the place where you live, the place you call home. Your early experiences with green practice often set the direction for where the path leads you next, which may be further into the fray. DEEPENING THE PRACTICE Being a beginner with any environmental topic, by definition, can- not last. The more you know about the environment, the less you can rest in blissful ignorance. It is too disturbing. The more you know about climate change, threatened species, energy needs, and human impact, the more concern you are likely to feel. The more time you spend in beautiful natural areas, the more you find out about the physical and political threats to their well-being. The more you understand about social inequity and environmental injustice, the harder it is to see your own actions in isolation. Environmental knowledge can be a double-edged sword: learning more about the world’s suffering often generates alarm and emotional distress. At the same time that very knowledge can galvanize you to take action and put that knowledge to work to alleviate suffering. As a beginner you may have ventured into environmental work in a single arena such as food and diet or caring about a personally significant place. Your shift to green thinking may have come from a single bout of intense commitment or smaller explorations at a gradual pace. If you stay on the green prac- tice path, your range of interests and concerns will expand. If your interest has been sparked through organic foods, you might want to learn more about eating local. If you are concerned about the health impacts of pesticides, you might want to learn more about hormone disrupters. At some point you realize you are asking the green question more and more often: What is the environmental impact of this product? Of this housing develop- ment? Of this zoning policy? You realize you are no longer liv- ing in a bubble, as if your actions had no impact anywhere. You know they do. Your environmental innocence is gone. This is how a person enters the next stage of the path of prac- tice. You may not have planned on it. You may find yourself sur- prised by your own growing convictions. Or you may be won- dering how to become a more effective advocate for the environ- ment. As a professor I am invited to be part of such wonderings, as students come to me considering graduate school or midca- reer professionals ask about switching fields. Each person arrives in my office carrying a bundle of questions and possible options. They want to think out loud with someone and find something that matches their yearning. I ask them what has brought them this far on the path, and then I try to gauge what level of com- mitment they imagine for themselves. I listen while they share what they have been thinking about, no matter how tentative their vision. They have come for encouragement, to hear some- one say, “Keep going, yes, you can do more.” It is clear they want a wider engagement with environmental concerns in their per- sonal or professional lives, or maybe even both. Taking up this phase of deeper commitment involves several significant inner processes that inform each other. When the green critique penetrates further into your life, you may need to rethink personal priorities. Every day and every hour we are making choices that reflect our current priorities. We choose to invest our time, energy, money, and relationships in certain things over oth- ers. Rethinking priorities means examining our current patterns and seeing if they really reflect what matters most to us. If environ- mental concerns come to occupy more of your everyday thoughts and activities, then it makes sense to move them more into the forefront of your activities. For example, you might learn enough about eating local foods to decide to grow some food of your own. This then means investing in a garden plot and in tools, seeds, soil The most important aspect in the early stages of the green practice path is to find what is personally satisfying and meaningful. Without this, you won’t continue the work. ➢ page 102