I read today on Maria's Farm Kitchen blog that conventional toothpastes contain plastic microbeads for scrubbing that do not biodegrade (of course) and will get washed down the drain and into the water system, eventually finding their way into the ocean. In a quick succession of thoughts, it occurred to me that the biggest stumbling block to our species living in harmony with the earth and creating an environmentally compatible society is not our fear of change. It is not the difficulty of changing our habits. The biggest challenge in humanity's changing course for greener waters is two fold:
- We have been sold a seriously long line of crap based on bullshit that we have to realize is bullshit and realize is crap in order to change.
- Admitting that we have been duped is humiliating. And for humans, humiliation is worse than death.
The Rat Race
First, regarding the bullshit. Our society believes that life is about achieving prestige, leisure, and stuff. It starts by seeking security, and then the idea of security gets bigger and bigger and harder to achieve. I will really feel secure when I own my home, have savings and investments, and a college savings plan for my kids. No, I will only feel truly secure and can then relax when I own a mansion and a yacht. As you know, it's endless. We do need to feel secure, but we've been sold a line by others trying to feel secure that the only way to do so is to buy their investments, stuff, and lifestyle. Then when I am secure, others will look at me and wish they could live like me - prestige. We can all sit on my gorgeous, expensive deck furniture and feel secure. Leisure. Stuff.
Not that there is anything wrong with college savings, deck furniture, leisure, or security - but these do not equal the most important things in life. And usually, they don't leave us feeling secure or leisurely. We instead feel afraid of losing what we have built. We feel afraid that we are not keeping up with the latest styles, and will lose that prestige. We feel afraid, constantly, that we are no doing or being enough.
Hello Madison Avenue
Second, the line of crap. Marketing and the media tell us constantly from every angle that in order to get those most important achievements (prestige, leisure, and the best stuff), in order to be enough, we have to
a) buy the right stuff and b) look the right way. Toothpaste with whiteners so that our teeth look straight and white. Skinny jeans. Low cal whatever. Diamonds and gold. The prettiest car. The latest gadgets. The nicest smelling detergents, perfumes, lotions, and shampoos. Lipstick and eyeliner. 3000 square feet house with giant television and a private bathroom for every person in the house.
We've been sold these assumptions - that we are not enough, that we need to be wealthy and have the latest coolest stuff, and that buying more things, changing our bodies and our lifestyles and our homes to be better, is the only way to go. That this lifestyle is in fact the only way to feel okay, be okay, be alive. These assumptions get all tied up with goodness, self worth, morality, and education. And many of these practices that are run by these assumptions are really, really bad for the planet.
So we don't contemplate these things. It's too depressing, too disempowering, and, frankly, too humiliating to do so.
Desperate to Avoid Humiliation
Studies show that we humans fear humiliation over just about everything else. We do whatever we can to avoid it. Humiliation means potential ostracizing. This fear goes back to our most basic roots of selfhood and humanity. And it is the opposite of prestige, leisure, and the best stuff.
So to admit that we spend all this time and energy chasing after the craziness we have been sold as how-life-should-be is doubly humiliating. We were duped, and when you take away these basic values (prestige, money, stuff), we are left with our basic animalness, and that can also be humiliating. We are left comparing ourselves to poor people in slums in India, and our greed and stupidity s horribly humiliating. So we just don't go there. Life as usual is much more comfortable.
But until we are able to admit these things and change course for what really matters - human rights, compassion for all life, creative expression, the precious Earth - we will not be able to step off the crazy mobile of microbeads and polytetrafluoroethylene. And that right there is the biggest challenge for living an ecologically sound life on our planet.
Have you ever had to apologize to someone in a situation where you really screwed up? It's humiliating. Your heart pounds, your hands sweat, you want to run away. But you know you can't. And then, when you've apologized and the other party has accepted and you make up, you feel so much better. The guilt and fear are gone. And all there is to do is go forward, carrying what you learned. As a society, that's what we need to do. Admit we've been wrong. Learn from our mistakes. Move forward with new understanding.