For many years I considered myself an environmentalist ‘fem-bot’ and supported the environmental movement with my money. I wanted to save everything and would feel despair and anger when I saw what people were doing to our planet. I did whatever I could to ‘be part of the solution’ by:
- Recycling long before recycling was the norm,
- Using my car as little as possible,
- Only buying things that were from socially responsible companies,
- Planting trees and huge vegetable gardens,
- Turning the lights off,
- Using less water,
- Keeping the heat turned down low,
- Reducing meat consumption,
- Occasionally riding my bike to work to reduce fuel consumption.
I felt guilty when I did something that wasn’t socially responsible, like throwing something in the garbage knowing it would end up in a landfill.
SAVING THE WORLD, LETTING GO OF THE GUILT AND PUTTING MYSELF FIRST
Many years later, I realised that in all of my efforts to save the world, I was forgetting about myself. I was putting myself second – or possibly last – and living in a way that did not support me by giving my power away to a belief system about how I should be living and not considering how it was best for me to live. Photos of seals being killed or polar bears that seemed to be stranded on icebergs or monkeys and cute animals in cages would instantly bring up strong emotional responses in me – grief, anger, despair and desperation. I felt a deep connection with them. At the same time, I held myself back from connecting with people around me, and took very little care of my own body – and had the health issues to show it.
Eventually, I cancelled all my memberships, started throwing away (or recycling, rather) invitations to donate money to charities. The veggie garden got smaller and included only things I wanted to eat. I bought a reliable car and kept the gas tank full. I looked at where I could make changes in my life that supported me and therefore in return naturally supported how I lived and interacted with everything around me. I started taking a water bottle with me whenever I left the house, and keeping lights on so that I wouldn’t run into furniture if I got up in the night. I started eating animal products again as I felt more into what my body needed for nourishment. I started to plant what I would once have considered completely impractical flowers for no other reason than that I felt they were beautiful. And – horror of horrors! – I actually cut the flowers to put in a vase for us to enjoy in the house…
When I let go of guilt and developed a greater commitment to myself and began putting myself first, I felt a huge weight being lifted and felt more open and lighter. It was amazing.
It was easy to see how, as a society of human beings, we’ve bought into a belief that we are the problem, even though we have as much right to live harmoniously in this world as any other part of nature.
OUR TRUE CONTRIBUTION TO THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEM AND PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY
Recently I realised something else about the ‘saving-the-world’ movement that doesn’t work. We pour billions of dollars into saving this or preserving that, but we never once consider what our TRUE individual contribution is to the environmental problem and the problems of our natural resources.
When do we stop to look at how each of us is personally living that is not in harmony with nature? Pointing the finger at societal problems does not consider each one of us as individual contributors. We allow ourselves to blame big business, governments and societal norms, which is looking at how ‘everyone else’ is living but not how I am living; not just in my actions, but also my relationships with others, my health and well-being, my commitment to work, how I connect with and feel compassion for others and live life in a loving way with myself first so that I can truly love others.
Taking personal responsibility is not about fuel efficiency or clean energy. It’s not about rebuilding forests and wetlands. It’s not about feeling guilty for living or feeling that human beings are a plague on the Earth. And it’s certainly not about saving endangered species that I believe are meant, by the natural order of things, to become extinct.
I feel that we all have a personal responsibility to look at how we are on an emotional, energetic, and behavioral level. We can look at our energy usage behaviours, but have we also looked at the excessive drug and alcohol consumption that we use to numb ourselves? What about the fact that we live in emotional drama and conflict, and justify it by seeing life as a challenge that needs to be overcome? Have we considered what the impact on our planet is of us being silent about violence in the world?
Until we consider ourselves in all of the ways that we live, we don’t know what living in harmony with the planet looks like. We live on this planet too. We are part of Nature too.
I still do things that support our environment because I am a responsible person and understand the importance of acting with personal responsibility in my relationship with Nature. But I no longer consider myself to be an environmentalist on a mission to save anything: I just feel a deep sense of appreciation for the beauty that is all around me, and that this beauty is also within me. I celebrate nature now, but no less than I celebrate and cherish me.
by Julie Goodhart – Human Resources Coach and Consultant, Vermont USA