We all have choices. Even if we think we have no options, we always have subtle choices like how to treat strangers. The choice of how to interact with friends, the environment, and even ourselves are all options over which we can exercise our choice to avoid, neglect, reject, abuse, honor, or cherish. These choices can be applied to our relationships with family, friends, and work associates, to the way we treat our possessions, or to the way we interact with the Earth…which is our home. The choices we make may seem inconsequential, as if they only affect ourselves, however, every choice we make has a ripple effect and creates far-reaching consequences that impact not only those in close proximity to us, but also those who will follow in our footsteps…future generations…whom we will never even meet.
Like the existential question, “If a tree falls in the woods, and no one hears it, does it make noise?” the question, “If your actions affect a person from the future, does it matter and should you care?” Everyday we can observe people littering city streets, tossing plastic cups or cigarettes from car windows, or discarding soft drink cans on remote mountain trails. It may offend our aesthetics, assault our values, or irritate our ethics, but we have little control over people who don’t see the point or simply just don’t care.
Conventional wisdom says that you will do unto others what was previously done to you. So if you were respected, you will know what that feels like, and you will in turn respect others. If you have been abused, you will in turn abuse others. The pattern of behavior from recipient to perpetrator is one that belies any conscious choice. With awareness comes the opportunity to choose. People can be held accountable for their actions by coming to terms with their past, choosing a different course, and by doing so, alter their future. If we hold this to be true, then we must ask ourselves the question, “What will it take for us to stop abusing our dear mother, our precious Earth upon which we live?”
Singapore succeeded in creating a litter-free environment by imposing stringent consequences on those who abuse the privileges. It worked in Singapore and when you walk the streets you notice how clean and litter-free the environment is. One can lament the fact that sanctions need to be imposed to enforce a standard, but some people interpret “freedom” as their right to clutter and leave unsightly messes. Should the government act like a parent disciplining unruly children? Should there be consequences to damaging our environment?
We live our lives discarding, disposing, and dumping unwanted, unnecessary, and undesirable items. We often think of the Earth as the universally forgiving receptacle that can and will receive all of our discards and reintegrate them into the texture of her skin. She is expected to simply take whatever we “dish out” without objecting, complaining, or retaliating. She is “supposed” to be the all-loving, long-suffering, benevolent mother who loves her children unconditionally. It is interesting to consider that cigarette butts can take up to 12 years to decompose, plastic bags up to 20 years, aluminum cans up to 100 years to degrade, glass bottles 1 million years, and plastic bottles may never ever decompose or biodegrade. Does this mean that we are creating “planet garbage” and ultimate will need to find another place to live? Sustainabie disposal of any product requires that its wastes return to the earth and are able to biodegrade. Crude oil, for example, will biodegrade in its natural state, but once it is turned into plastic, it becomes an unsustainable non-integratable problem. Is there anyone responsible to approve of products that can and should ultimately biodegrade? The answer is, “No.” That is not a high enough priority…yet.
Littering may be the least crime to the environment, what about those corporations that intentionally pollute our water, land, and air? You could argue that the government and the EPA are responsible to ensure that our natural resources are protected, but what about those government agencies that can be bought with corporate funds for the price of campaign contributions? What about the coal slurry in Appalachia (60 minutes April 12) that created an environmental travesty and was summarily ignored by the EPA?
At the beginning of this year I had the opportunity to visit Viet Nam. We visited the Cuchi Tunnels where the Viet Namese lived to survive the attacks of the superpower. During our tour we were shown a crater caused by a bomb dropped from a plane. I couldn’t help but think that this is not the way to treat our mother. I am not focusing on the four million Viet Namese people whom we killed in the name of freedom, I am merely concentrating on the damage one bomb does to our planet. Sometimes I think that earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, torrential rains, and other natural disasters are the result of Mother Earth saying, “Stop hurting me! If you don’t, I will stop you by showing you who you are dealing with.” The next time you hear about a natural disaster, consider the Earth speaking up, talking back, and standing up for herself in the only way she knows.
The documentary film, “The Fog of War” won the 2004 best documentary film at the Academy Awards. The film is Robert McNamara, secretary of defense under two presidents, Kennedy and Johnson, telling his side of the story, something no other secretary of defense has ever done before. McNamara is also the first person in history to bring together both sides (in 1997) of a war (Vietnam), and try to discover what could have been avoided or learned from those 15 years of bloodshed. Perhaps the film is motivated by his conscience, suffering, or enlightened hindsight, but regardless of what motivated him to make the film, it is an act of courage. He poses the question, “What makes it immoral if you lose the war and moral if you win?” He proposes that “There is something beyond oneself” and he explores responsibility, ethics, and values. He addresses God and spirituality in almost a soul-searching manner. Then later in the film, he addresses the US bombing and burning to death 100,000 Japanese civilians: men, women and children in one night. McNamara’s reflections and thought-provoking questions invite us to examine our beliefs and behaviors.
Do we have the capacity to change the way we resolve conflicts? Do we humans possess the consciousness and capability using diplomacy and negotiating skills, to consider a world that doesn’t always resort to killing to conquer, gain territory, land, power, economic superiority, or to dominate others? So far we have demonstrated our intelligence, creativity, ability, and power to design and implement technological advances in every field except human consciousness, environmental choices, and waging global peace. Why are we so primitive when it comes to caring for our planet and each other?
It takes 9 months to create a baby and one split-second bullet to destroy that life forever. It comes back to exercising our choices. We all have options and choices even when we believe we have none. Even if your personal power comes down to casting one solitary vote for a person who represents your values, consider that power seriously.
Consider being mindful in all your actions. We do have options and choices. Making conscious choices about depositing refuse in the proper receptacle, purchasing products from environmentally conscious companies, recycling whenever possible, and teaching your children how to care for themselves, each other, and our Mother Earth will cause a positive ripple effect. There are hundreds of little acts that you can do everyday to ensure that our Earth is respected, cared for, and honored for future generations whom we will never meet. Ask what you are willing to do to make the difference.
Be mindful of your choices, all of them, and remember…voting counts!
©Motivation Management Holdings, Ltd. 2009