This piece appeared in the spec.com under the title As a Society, We’re still in the Adolescent Phase.
A nation is formed by the willingness of each of us to share in the responsibility for upholding the common good.
— Barbara Jordan
We were wishing we had more lives to live on this planet. “It isn’t fair that we only get one life,” my daughter said. “One life is not enough to do and to be and to experience.”
Perhaps there is a parallel universe or two that we will one day be able to access and “know” that we are experiencing at the same time as our earth-life. But currently, this is it, and how do we want to live it? Also, we only get one world, but what a world!
And since it is spring, a time of renewal, and we’ve been celebrating the Earth throughout April, caring is something that has been on my mind — to care for this one life, for this one world, to care for other lives.
“Most people don’t care, as long as they get to do their favourite thing,” the cynical comedian Louis C.K. jests, in all seriousness.
“They won’t even do their second favourite thing.”
Louis goes on to describe a driver in the right lane who wants to make a left turn and “just shoves his car through everybody’s life,” cutting everyone else off. “What else could I do?” Going another route is “not my favourite way though. That only meets 99 per cent of my criteria.”
That is to say, our “favourite things” often end up causing others harm.
Why don’t we care more? For others. For our planet?
Author and climate scientist George Monbiot has an insightful perspective: the extent that we care correlates with the level of our wealth.
Rich, anglophone countries care less about the well-being of the planet than do countries that are not as wealthy. Monbiot demonstrates, using graphs, how the richer we are and the more we consume, the more self-centred and careless of the lives of others we appear to become.
Monbiot points to our hyperconsumerism that is destroying relationships, communities and the physical fabric of the Earth. He writes that the more harm we do, the less concerned about it we become: “So the perennially low level of concern, which flickers upwards momentarily when disaster strikes, then slumps back into the customary stupor, is an almost inevitable result of a society that has become restructured around shopping, fashion, celebrity and an obsession with money.”
Personally, I consider hoarding wealth to be a mental disorder.
The irony is that so many of the 99 per cent of us identify with the one per cent of the rich, defending their entitlement to wealth, aspiring to it — blaming themselves for not having the “gumption” to achieve those heights (that is, to mercilessly exploit people) and hoping to one day win the lottery.
The rich practise tax evasion by hiding their wealth in tax shelters, holding companies etc. Doesn’t it make more sense as a society to work toward better redistribution of wealth so that all people benefit?
Then there’s wasting. Wasting is something we are really good at. We waste food and water, we waste energy, we waste money, we waste time. We waste ourselves — our potential. We waste lives.
Government is stepping up to help curb our consumer wasting, (Ontario recently introduced legislation that, if passed, would divert more waste from landfills and create jobs) but I don’t know what we can do about the many young lives that are being lost through hopelessness and despair.
We’ve only got one world. And even if we had other worlds, would it be right to squander those too, to pillage and wreck as we do to this one?
Author Mike Nickerson has spoken extensively about the need to grow up as a humanity — that we are still in an adolescence stage, reluctant to move on.
“Like adolescents approaching adulthood, our society clings to its carefree past,” writes Nickerson. But optimistically, “Since most adults have been able to make that transformation successfully, there is good reason to believe that our society will also find a mature state,” Nickerson believes. And so do I.
I think it can happen as long as maturity means caring actively on behalf of the good of all. I think we can live lightly on the earth when we think beyond the “me and mine” and “my favourite thing” and shed our identities as mere consumers and focus on the reality that we are here only for a little while.
Do we really want to leave a great, stinking mess behind with the time we had?
The first step to maturity as a society, is to take responsibility and act accordingly for reconciliation and reparation — toward First Nations and people in our lives who we wrong, toward our home planet Earth.
Beatrice Ekoko is a freelance writer based in Hamilton.